Poor fit between reasoning abilities, job demands may cause older workers to experience stress and strain that serve to push them out of the workforce, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
"When their reasoning abilities matched the demands of their job, older adults experienced fewer health issues and worked longer than adults who did not have the necessary reasoning abilities to perform their job," said Margaret Beier, Ph.D., of Rice University and lead author of the study. "Experienced workers offer much in terms of knowing the company culture and being able to mentor younger employees, so it is vital that we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes."
With a growing proportion of older adults in the workforce, Beier and her co-authors wanted to learn about the factors involved in maintaining health and determining when people choose to retire.
Researchers measured cognitive ability using a combination of 13 different measures, including verbal analogies (e.g., they were given three words of an analogy and must name the fourth), number series (e.g., they look at a number series and find the one missing) and calculations. The researchers also measured demands from jobs using the O*NET database, which reports the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes needed for many jobs in the United States. Participants were also asked to report if they had any of nine health conditions, including high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and lung disease.
"Mathematical reasoning may be important for both a middle school math teacher and a calculus professor, but the level of ability demanded the calculus professor is higher than for the teacher," said Beier. "To measure health conditions, we summed up the number of chronic health conditions participants reported in the Cognition and Aging in the USA study. Retirement status was measured simply by asking the participants about their current employment situation."
Researchers found that having reasoning abilities that matched the demands of the job was important to the positive experience of work in older age. When reasoning abilities required by a job exceeded a worker's abilities, workers reported more health conditions and were more likely to be retired, said Beier. When workers' reasoning abilities met or exceeded a job's demands, they also reported fewer chronic health conditions.
"We found that a poor fit between reasoning abilities and job demands might cause older workers to experience stress and strain that serves to push them out of the workforce," said Beier.
Reasoning abilities decline with age, so organizations must be aware of how employee health can be negatively affected by the demands placed upon an employee, said Beier. Older workers can handle highly complex jobs as long as they have the mental resources to match job demands.
The results of this study could inform decisions on how jobs for older employees should be designed to reduce the potential for negative health outcomes and retain these veteran employees as long as possible before retirement, according to Beier.
"With the average age of retirement increasing across the country and the older population itself becoming a larger portion of the population, it is important that we study how the demands placed on older workers in the workforce should match their abilities," said Beier. "Older workers have such valuable experience that it is vital we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes."