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Old and engaged? A look at employee engagement for the ‘continuing worker’

January 30, 2011

As Countryfile has come under scrutiny for age discrimination and the jokes still abound, I thought it interesting to think about whether there is any difference in employee engagement levels between older and younger employees. As it happens, I was bang on trend as in the latest edition of the Journal of Organisational Behaviour there is an article on ‘predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse retail workforce’.

Questions that the paper sought to address were: Are retirement eligible workers different from those who are approaching retirement ages? Are they more or less engaged that younger workers? Does the organisation need to employ new strategies to keep them engaged? Via a sample of 6047 employees from the retail sector analysis of age and engagement was conducted.

Capowski (1994) suggests that age in the workplace is the ‘new diversity’ as workers are now choosing to work beyond the 60 to 65 cut-off which the Government previously dictated. Organisations are being urged to review competencies and age related policies to try to retain their older talent.

The findings from the study showed that older workers were significantly more engaged than their younger counterparts, however with one exception (career development and promotion) it was found that the factors that predicted employee engagement were the same for all ages.

It was clear in the study that older workers cannot be considered to be ‘checked out’ or simply marking time until retirement; both those approaching retirement and those of retirement age were more engaged than the younger workforce. However, older workers, it appears, have different expectations about work and their relationship to their superiors and believe that they will be rewarded for their loyalty.

Interestingly, all age groups were likely to be engaged more when they perceived their superiors to be supportive, as someone concerned about their well-being and someone who would recognise them for their achievements. In addition, job clarity was also something that differentiated those who were engaged from those disengaged.

An especially valuable job condition for older workers was the flexibility to manage both work and personal responsibilities, in return higher levels of engagement were found to occur.

Whilst those eligible for retirement were not significantly interested in career promotion, it is clear that they are still interested in learning for their role and they are not disinterested in growth and development. Therefore, opportunities for learning should still be provided for older workers and they should not be ‘passed over’.

So what are the conclusions that can be drawn here? Well, the paper concludes that ‘although employees are more similar than different in the job conditions that predict employee engagement, the differences identified suggests that age matters and that employers should be thinking more about age as the new diversity issue’. On the whole, organisations should consider older employees as much as younger employees and should employ the same engagement processes as are found to be best practice – i.e. managers should be supportive, caring, provide recognition and work to ensure job clarity for their employees (see our previous blogs on best practice in employee engagement). Retaining older employees it seems is a good way to ensure higher levels of employee engagement across your organisation...Countryfile, perhaps you should be reading this!

Key Reference

Boone-James, J. McKechnie, S. Swanberg, J. (2011). Predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse retail workforce. Journal of Organizational Behaviour 32, 173–196

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