During the last lesson on engagement, we covered some factors that encourage employee engagement in the workforce, such as task variety and significance and employee voice. However while researching more about employee engagement, I came across this research article by Zaniboni, Truxillo and Fraccaroli (2013) that noted the differences between younger and older workers in relation to task variety and skill variety in engaging employees. It occurred to me that the different ways to increase employee engagement tended to focus on the average employee, and not on age diversity. Many concepts are thus applied generally and the effects of age has not been looked at. It could be that different characteristics of jobs could benefit employees differently, depending on their stage in life.
Why should we bother age?
Well at the start of the module we noted that diversity in the workforce is changing, and this includes age diversity. The ageing workforce is becoming a reality, and it should be important to know the effects of these theories on age too because it has positive benefits on employees. As covered in class, employee engagement not only increases task and conceptual performance, but reduces stress and sick days and increases commitment to the organization. As such, I have looked at four different studies to see how some factors of employee engagement has different impacts on employee’s age.
Differences in perceptions of work
The reason for the distinction can be due to both psychological and practical differences regarding work for younger and older employees. Some researchers have found how younger workers are more future orientation and look for knowledge acquisition because this can further their careers. On the other hand, older workers (who has already acquired knowledge and experience in their years of working) are more present orientated and are more selective with their resources used (Zabiboni et al., 2013). Older workers also have some preconceived notions that they are not supposed to be working or are just simply waiting until they retire, and as such might be less engaged (James et al., 2011). Older workers are also more concerned with maximizing positive emotions and social experiences (Zabiboni et al., 2013).
Factors in engagement and age
Across the few studies I have looked at, there are significant differences in the factors of employee engagement and age. Firstly, I previously mentioned how task and skill variety has an effect. It was found that age is a moderating factor for the relationship between task variety and burnout/ turnover, the relationship between skill variety and turnover. This is summarized by the figures below.
Thus, younger employees prefer task variety and older employees prefer skill variety. Younger workers see task variety as a way to develop job skills to advance their career. On the other hand, older workers who have already acquired these skills want to be able to apply their skills. This will lead to better engagement and decrease in turnover and burnout.
The second paper by James et al., (2011) shows how some factors can effect employees more depending on their age. James looked at four influences: supervisor support and recognition, schedule satisfaction, job clarity and, career development and promotion. While all these promote engagement in employees, they have different consequences depending on age. While the first 3 factors have a significant influence on employees regardless of age, supervisor support and recognition has a bigger impact for those who are approaching or eligible for retirement. The last factor affects all age group except those who are eligible for retirement.
These studies have indeed shown how age diversity can have different effects on employee engagement, and there is a need for further distinction between engaging older employees and engaging younger employees. There might be no one size fits all approach to employee engagement. Employers need to have knowledge about the underlying differences in working conditions between younger and older workers in order to effectively engage their employees. It will also be useful to note some similarities in the factors. For example, supervisor support and recognition, schedule satisfaction and job clarity can increase engagement in both types of workers, leading to easier implementation of policies or practices for leaders. One can see the benefits of having these different distinctions in both a theoretical and practical way. It will be helpful to see other differences between younger and older workers in future research.
Thanks for reading!
James, J. B., Mckechnie, S., & Swanberg, J. (2011). Predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse retail workforce. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 173-196.
Pitt-Catsouphes, M., & Matz-Costa, C. (2008). The multi-generational workforce: Workplace flexibility and engagement. Community, Work & Family, 215-229.
Zaniboni, S., Truxillo, D. M., & Fraccaroli, F. (2013). Differential effects of task variety and skill variety on burnout and turnover intentions for older and younger workers. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 306-317.