New research explains why older workers might be more stressed than younger workers. Older workers tend to feel more stress than younger workers when their employers don't provide them with the support and resources needed to do their jobs well, according to a new Portland State University study.
The study, published online in April in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, is part of a larger project aimed at improving employee health, safety, work-life balance and well-being. The research team - made up of Lale Yaldiz, a Ph.D. candidate in industrial-organizational psychology, and PSU psychology professors Donald Truxillo, Leslie Hammer and Todd Bodner - surveyed 243 municipal public works employees between the ages of 24 and 64 over the course of a year.
But when such resources were lacking, older workers reported significantly higher stress levels a year later than their younger colleagues. "These are things that employers should provide to all employees, but may be especially important for older employees," Truxillo said. "You don't want to have a company policy that says, 'We treat young people this way and old people that way,' but it does show you that age-sensitive human resource systems should be in place where you maybe train managers on how to be aware of the needs of their different workers."
Among the study's recommendations: Rather than require that employees complete tasks a certain way, employers should, when possible, give workers the flexibility to bring their different skill sets, strengths and years of accumulated job experience to the table Training for supervisors should emphasize leadership skills about how to build strong relationships with workers of all ages so they feel like trusted and valued members of their team Since older workers appear to be more susceptible to stress in the face of unfairness, organizations can help workers by being transparent about how decisions are made and implemented, not discriminating, valuing employee input when making key decisions and providing channels for employees to voice concerns
Bodner said that in many ways, it's common sense. "When you come down to it, focusing on bottom lines and ignoring these human resource factors have really bad results and can be more expensive down the road," he said. "By not focusing on the human side, it's a short-term gain but a long-term loss." The researchers suggest that future studies should look at diverse worker groups across industries, jobs, gender and ethnicities to generalize the study findings, and explore the types of resources that are important to younger employees' well-being.