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Age-related factors in the motivation to work: What we know and where we need to go

- work in progress -

Dorien Kooij, Paul Jansen, Annet de Lange, Josje Dikkers

VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

Number of words: 5283 (excl. tables and figures, references and abstract)

Correspondence to: Dorien Kooij: VU University Amsterdam, Department of Management and Organization, De Boelelaan 1105 (Room 3A-42), 1081 HV Amsterdam, email:, tel : 020 598 6187


Little is known about the motivation of older workers to work and to remain active on the labor market. Research on age and motivation is limited and conceptually ambiguous; different operationalizations of age and motivation (theories) are used. Consequently, in this study we want to address age-related factors influencing the work motivation of older workers. More specifically, we will examine how different conceptualizations of the factor age affect the work motivation of older workers, by reviewing literature on empirical research regarding age-related factors and work motivation. Results of our literature review indicate that most age-related factors can have a negative impact on the work motivation of older workers. However, earlier research (Paynter, 2004; Rhodes, 1983) has also found a positive relation between age and work motivation. Furthermore, numerous factors intervene in the relation between the different conceptualizations of age and work motivation. These findings suggest that age-related factors are important in understanding the work motivation of older workers and that further research is needed to better understand the underlying process of how these age-related factors influence the work motivation of older workers.

1 Introduction

1.1 Background The participation rate of older workers in the Dutch labor market is low (39,8% in 2004, CBS Statline). At the same time the Dutch population and the potential workforce are aging. These changes will have important economic and social consequences. First, public expenditure on pensions, health and long-term care will increase. Second, fewer people in employment will have to support a growing number of people outside the labor market, causing the dependency ratio (number of workers needed to support a retiree) to double from 22% in 2000 to 40% in 2050 (OECD, 2005). Fewer workers relative to non-workers will imply lower national saving and investment. As a result, the growth of productivity, economic growth and our standard of living will suffer (CED, 1999). Moreover, the potential workforce is expected to shrink 10% until 2035 (Lokhorst, 2003), resulting in a tight labor market, shortage of skilled and knowledgeable employees and scarce (younger) human resources in industries. The low participation rate of older workers is partially caused by previous government policy. Since the late 70s and early 80s, when the Dutch economy had to cope with high rates of unemployment, the policy had been to use Social Security to remove older workers from the workforce in order to free jobs for young people. In 2002, 13% of people aged 50-64 were on disability benefits, 6% on early retirement schemes, 3% on welfare support, and 3% on unemployment benefits (OECD, 2005). In 2000, the average effective retirement age was 61 for men and 59 for women. The Dutch government is currently improving incentives for older workers to remain active on the labor market. As a consequence, the group aged 55-64 is expected to increase from 15% of the potential workforce in 2000 to 25% in 2020 (Lokhorst, 2003). In order to ensure that sufficient human resources continue to be available in the

future, organizations require HRM policies that match the needs of older workers and exploit the full potential of the aging workforce. However, there is a paucity of studies that examine the motivation of older workers to work and to remain active in the workforce. Empirical research regarding motivation (theories) has mostly been based on young people and the factor age has often played a minor role or the role of confounder in these studies (see for example Eerde and Thierry, 1996; Latham and Steele, 1983; Locke and Latham, 2002; Wegge and Haslam, 2005). Motivation and aging Motivation and age are complex constructs, which are both affected by a large number of factors, and tied to different nomological networks (e.g. Latham and Pinder, 2005). As a consequence, age and motivation are conceptualized in different ways. In some studies, for example, motivation is conceptualized as need, and age is conceptualized as life stage, whereas in other studies motivation is conceptualized as intrinsic motivation, and age is conceptualized as calendar age. In this exploratory study on age and motivation we aim to distinguish specific age-related factors influencing the work motivation of older workers, thus identifying the most important age-related factors that should be addressed by HRM policies. We will start with discussing the conceptualization of age and motivation in our literature review. Subsequently, we will address results found in earlier research examining the relation between age and motivation, the resulting research questions and the design and method of the current study. Finally, the results are presented and discussed.

1.2 The conceptualization of age The term older worker may refer to workers from age 40 to 75, depending on the purpose and field of study. In studies concerning labor market participation, the term older worker refers to workers aged 50 or 55 and onwards. In many countries, including the Netherlands,

the age of 50 marks the beginning of a decline in participation rate by age (OECD, 2005). Researchers examining older people in organizations define older workers as 40 or 45 and older. Here old refers to obsolete knowledge, skills and attitude (Muijnck and Zwinkels, 2002). However, a number of researchers have suggested that chronological age may be an insufficient operationalization of the factor age in the work setting (Avolio, Barrett, and Sterns, 1984; Cleveland and Hollmann, 1991; Sterns and Alexander, 1987; Sterns and Miklos, 1995; Wolf, London, Casey and Pufahl, 1995). Aging refers to changes that occur in biological, psychological, and social functioning through time and, therefore, affects each individual at the personal, organizational, and societal level (De Lange et al., 2006; Sterns and Miklos, 1995). Individuals with the same chronological age may differ in terms of health, career stage and family status. As a consequence, Sterns and Doverspike (1989) distinguish between five different approaches to conceptualize age: Chronological age refers to the calendar age; Functional age is based on performance and recognizes that there is great individual variation in abilities and functioning at all ages. It refers to cognitive abilities and physical health; Psychosocial age refers to the self perception and the social perception of age. The social perception of age includes relative age (compared with a certain group), age norms applied to an individual with respect to an occupation, company or society and stereotypes; Organizational age refers to years of service, career stage, skill obsolescence and age norms within the company; Life span approach borrows from a number of the previous approaches but emphasizes the intra-individual changes as individuals move through adulthood and older

adulthood. It refers to life stage or family status (De Lange et al., 2006; Sterns and Doverspike, 1989; Sterns and Miklos, 1995). Few studies measure these different conceptualizations of age. Cleveland and Shore (1992), for example, found that the employees chronological age, the employees subjective age (self-perception), the employees social age (others perception), and the employees relative age (compared with the employees work group), differentially predict various work outcomes: for example, employees who perceive themselves to be older than most of the people in their work group, exhibited more job involvement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Furthermore, De Lange, Taris, Jansen, Smulders, Houtman and Kompier (2006) examined the impact of the factor age in occupational health research and found that different age groups reveal significant differences in important age-related variables. In this paper we use the aforementioned conceptualizations of age to distinguish age-related factors that influence the work motivation of older workers (see Figure 1 research framework).

1.3 The conceptualization of motivation Motivation can be both an independent and a dependent variable. As an independent variable, different theories have been put forward to explain motivation. As such, for example, Atkinson (1964) defines motivation as the contemporary (immediate) influence on direction, vigor, and persistence of action, while Vroom (1964) defines it as a process governing choice made by persons among alternative forms of voluntary activity. Pinder (1998) describes work motivation as a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individuals being, to initiate work-related behavior, and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration.

As a dependent variable, motivation is defined as intention to behave. Despite all the different theories and definitions, according to Landy and Becker (1987), there is general agreement that motivated behavior consists of any or all of the following behavioral elements: initiation, direction, persistence, intensity, and termination. In this exploratory paper, we define motivation as intention to (continue to) work and we address all these behavioral elements.

2 Research on age and motivation

Research on age and motivation shows that different work characteristics motivate older and younger workers. However, the results are mixed. Wright and Hamilton (1978) and Kalleberg and Loscocco (1983) found that the importance of many job features is stable across different ages, but that income and promotion opportunities are of greater concern among younger people (Warr, 1992). Gruenfeld (1962) found that older supervisors prefer jobs with greater job security, and fewer worries, tensions and troubles. On the other hand, Phillips, Barrett and Rush (1978) found that older workers prefer more responsibility, interesting work, and attention demands, whereas younger workers prefer autonomy and social opportunities. Warr (1997) has drawn together the limited empirical evidence about preferences at different ages for key job features, suggesting that across the years overall decreases are likely in the importance of high job demands, job variety and feedback. Furthermore, older workers seem more concerned with job security and physical security. Finally, various studies found that for older workers job satisfaction is more closely related to intrinsic factors or internal rewards of work (Cohn, 1979; Gruenfeld, 1962; Kanfer and Ackermann, 2004; Saleh and Otis, 1964; Schwab and Heneman, 1977; Stagner, 1985; Valentine, Valentine and Dick, 1998; Vallerand, OConnor, and Hamel, 1995).

Nevertheless, few studies have examined the impact of aging on work motivation (Bourne, 1982; Kanfer and Ackerman, 2004; Lord 2002; 2004). Furthermore, according to Stagner (1985) and Cooper and Robertson (1991) there has been little research (Arvey and Warren, 1976; Heneman, 1973; Huddleston, Good and Frazier, 2002; Linz, 2004; Lord, 2004) on age differences in expectancy motivation or any other motivation theory. Rhodes (1983) reviewed more than 185 studies to examine age-related differences in internal work motivation and found only a few relevant studies (Aldag and Brief, 1977; Hall and Mansfeld, 1975; Warr, Cook, and Wall, 1979). These studies reported a positive (weak) relationship between age and internal work motivation. Lord (2004) examined the work motivation of older knowledge workers and found that the primary reasons older workers remain active in the workforce is that they enjoy working, derive satisfaction from using their skills, gain a sense of accomplishment from the job they do and enjoy the chance to be creative. According to Higgs, Mein, Ferrie, Hyde, and Nazroo (2003), older workers continue to work because of financial reasons, work itself or their traditional work ethic. Leviatan (1992) found that older kibbutz workers prefer jobs that satisfy higher order needs to jobs offering better physical conditions or convenience. Lord (2002) found that older engineers with insufficient income to retire, work to satisfy needs on the first and second level of Maslows hierarchy (hygiene factors), whereas older engineers with sufficient income to retire, are motivated by needs that are primarily characterized by the third and fourth levels of Maslows hierarchy (motivators). Linz (2004) examined job motivators of Russian workers and found that pay is the most important job motivator. Overall, Linz found no significant difference in the rank order of job motivators emerging from the younger and older respondents, although older workers place higher value on pay and security and the respect and friendliness of co-workers. Finally, Paynter (2004) examined the motivational profiles of teachers and found that teachers aged 50 and older have significantly higher combined

(extrinsic, intrinsic and moral) motivation scores than teachers aged 20-39. On the other hand, other studies (e.g. Mehrabian and Blum, 1996; Okun and Di Vesta, 1976; Veroff, Atkinson, Feld, Gurin, 1960) found that achievement motivation declines in the later years. In sum, it appears that research on aging and motivation (theories) is limited and that age and motivation are conceptualized in different ways. In the present study we aim to distinguish specific age-related factors influencing the work motivation of older workers by examining the relation between the different conceptualizations of age, as proposed by Sterns and Doverspike (1989) and further developed by De Lange et al. (2006), and work motivation, defined as intention to (continue to) work. The influence of aging on work motivation is examined through the following research questions: 1. How does chronological age affect the work motivation of older workers? 2. How does functional age affect the work motivation of older workers? 3. How does psychosocial age affect the work motivation of older workers? 4. How does organizational age affect the work motivation of older workers? 5. How does life span age affect the work motivation of older workers? Figure 1 summarizes the resulting research framework.

Underlying causal changes

Biological, psychological, social and societal changes across time

Type of definition

Chronological Age
Possible indicators

Functional Age

Psychosocial Age

Organizational Age

Life-span Age

Calendar age ?

Cognitive abilities ?

Physical health ?

Self perception ?

Social perception ? Motivation to work

Company tenure ?

Career stage ?

Skill obsolescence ?

Life stage / family status ?

Figure 1 Research framework (extended version of Figure 1, De Lange et al., 2006, p. 7) 9

3 Method

The research method of this study is a (systematic) literature review of empirical research regarding age-related factors and work motivation. Several databases were searched: PsycInfo, Eric, Web of science and Picarta. Keywords used are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Keywords used for literature search Keywords Motivation AND



Age Older employee Psychosocial age Age norms Health Psychological age Physical abilities Life course Marital status Career stage -

Older worker Aging Self perception Functional age Biological age Cognitive abilities Lifespan Family status Tenure Obsolescence

In addition, the literature references of the found literature were searched for relevant studies. The literature review resulted in 50 empirical, conceptual and theoretical studies.

4 Results In this paragraph we discuss the results from the literature review.

4.1 The impact of chronological age on work motivation In this approach older workers are defined by calendar age (see De Lange et al., 2006). First, the Dutch government uses calendar age to set the age of mandatory retirement and entitlement to the state old age pension (AOW). This age is set at age 65, thus providing a strong monetary incentive to work until that age. However, until recently, funded early retirement resulted in an effective average retirement age of only 60. Furthermore, Social


Security was used to remove older workers from the workforce. Therefore, to raise the effective retirement age, the government has introduced a number of reforms, such as the abolishment of early retirement. The monetary incentive notwithstanding, Ekerdt and DeViney (1993) have suggested that as individuals approach a fixed age of retirement, they may come to view their jobs as a burden and become less psychologically involved. Furthermore, mandatory retirement could make elderly people feel less competent and more dependent on others, with potentially negative consequences for motivation (Vallerand et al., 1995). Second, many organizations use calendar age to define older workers in their company policies. Existing HRM policies for older workers mainly include collective measures for workers of a specified age-group with the purpose of accommodating these older workers (e.g. reduced workload, additional leave and pre-retirement) (Dorhout, Maassen van den Brink, and Groot, 2002; Lokhorst, 2003; Remery, Henkens, Schippers, Doorne-Huiskes and Ekamper, 2001; Thunissen, 2005). These measures are often combined with reduced investments in training and development of older workers and most of them have been designed to encourage older workers to stop working, at least on a partial basis (OECD, 2005). As a consequence, these policies could have a negative affect on the motivation of the older workers involved. Furthermore, calendar age determines which workers are offered generous early retirement schemes and other attractive exit routes in times of downsizing and reorganization. These financially attractive arrangements influence older workers decision to retire early (Dorhout et al., 2002; Henkens and Tazelaar; 1997; Kohli and Rein, 1991; Taylor, Tillsley, Beausoleil, Wilson, and Walker, 2000; Vries, Willemsen, and Nauta, 2002). Thus, although these older workers are probably motivated to work, the attractiveness of the financial arrangement prevails.


4.2 The impact of functional age on work motivation In this approach older workers are defined by psychological age (determined by cognitive abilities) and biological age (determined by physical health). Psychological age Warr (1992; 2001) and Kanfer and Ackermann (2004) reviewed literature on cognitive abilities and age and found that cognitive abilities change with age; crystallized intellectual abilities, such as general knowledge and verbal comprehension, increase, and fluid intelligence, such as working memory and abstract reasoning, and reaction time decrease. Kanfer and Ackerman (2004) propose that these changes affect motivation through the amount of effort required to sustain performance. However, this compensatory motivational strategy will be undermined by negative effects on psychological factors (e.g., self-efficacy) that support motivation. Furthermore, in tasks with high demands on fluid intelligence, motivation among older workers may be diminished as the discrepancy between preferred effort level and task demands increases (this will be further explained in paragraph 4.3). In tasks with mixed demands on fluid and crystallized intelligence, declines in work motivation may be attenuated by altering work roles (shifting the direction of work motivation) to reduce the demands on fluid intelligence of the job. Biological age Physical abilities decline with age (Greller and Simpson, 1999; Nauta, Bruin and Cremer, 2004; Sterns and Miklos, 1995). In addition, different studies show that physical health affects motivation. Holahan (1988) found, for example, that health correlates significantly with achievement motivation. Furthermore, earlier research has indicated that health limitations have a strong impact on the decision to retire early (Anderson and Burkhauser, 1985; Hayward, Grady, Hardy, and Sommers, 1989; Muller and Boaz, 1988; Myers, 1982; Schmitt an McCune, 1981; Walker and Price, 1976), and thus on the motivation to continue to work. On the other hand, recent studies among teachers and civil servants reveal that personal health plays only a modest role in retirement decisions (Henkens and


Tazelaar, 1997; Vries et al., 2002). A possible explanation for these findings is that the lost capabilities are of decreasing importance for these (and many other physically light) professions and that minor accommodations in the work environment and compensatory personal coping strategies can overcome the effects of physical and psychological decline (Greller and Simpson, 1999; Nauta et al., 2004). Avolio, Waldman and McDaniel (1990) found that type of occupation indeed moderated the relationship between age and performance. Across jobs as a whole, there is no significant difference between the job performance of older and younger workers (Warr, 1992). Finally, (relative) physical and psychological decline may result in negative thoughts and feelings about the self (Demo, 1992).

4.3 The impact of psychosocial age on work motivation Psychosocial age refers to the self and social perception of age. Self perception of age In this approach, psychological aging refers to a shift in the individuals time orientation emphasizing life lived from birth (future sense of self) to life left until death (past self-image) (see Neugarten, 1968). Psychological aging has a number of consequences. First, self perception of age is likely to affect self-efficacy, which, according to Bandura (1977), lies at the heart of an individuals motivation to act. Second, Carstensen (1995) found that with psychological aging the motivation for contact with others shifts from gaining resources (instrumental) to obtaining affective rewards (emotional satisfaction) and supporting ones identity. As a result, older workers face the marketplace with fewer resources than workers who are actively maintaining a network of instrumental relationships. Third, Lang and Carstensen (2002) found that with psychological aging generativity motives rise (see also Stewart, Ostrove and Helson, 2001). This suggests that generative jobs


or tasks, such as teaching and mentoring (Farr, Tesluk, and Klein, 1998; Pratt, Norris, Arnold and Filyer, 1999), promote older workers work motivation (Kanfer and Ackerman, 2004). Finally, according to Kanfer and Ackerman (2004), with age, preference for activities that support positive affect, self-concept (see also Gecas, 1982; Korman, 1970; Leonard, Beauvais and Scholl, 1999; Maurer, 2001), and identity rises, thus resulting in increased work motivation in jobs that offer opportunities for positive affective events or strengthened sense of identity. Moreover, the utility of effort can be expected to decline with age, because effort expenditures are likely to be associated with emotional exhaustion, stress, and negative affect. Social perception of age Social perception includes relative age, age norms and stereotypes. Relative age refers to age as compared to a certain group. McCain, O'Reilly, and Pfeffer (1983) and Rhodes (1983) have shown that employees with a relative old age (or relative longer tenure) have a higher propensity to leave an organization. Age norms are described by Lawrence (1988) as widely shared beliefs about the standard or typical age considered appropriate for individuals given a certain role or status. There is sufficient evidence in the literature for the existence of normative age groups within organizations. Different studies (Finkelstein, Burke and Raju, 1995; Kanter, 1977; Martin and Strauss, 1956; Panek, Staats and Hiles, 2006; Sofer, 1970) found shared beliefs about agerelated career timetables and about typical older person and younger person jobs. These age norms appear to affect a wide range of employment issues (Dalton and Thompson, 1971; Kanter, 1977; Sofer, 1970). Employees who are behind age-based career patterns, for example, are less likely to receive future promotions and high performance evaluations (Lawrence, 1987; Rosenbaum, 1984). Furthermore, Hwalek, Firestone and Hoffman (1982) have argued that social pressure resulting from age norms is the strongest factor influencing the aging process and the decision to retire (see also McCann and Giles, 2002).


In addition, managers may hold stereotypes about older workers (e.g. strong work ethics, unwilling or unable to learn new skills and unable to change or adapt (Dorhout et al., 2002; Lord, 2004; Greller and Simpson, 1999; Nauta et al., 2004; Sterns and Miklos, 1995; Visser, Henkens and Schipper, 2003). Rosen and Jerdee (1976) examined the influence of age stereotypes on managerial decisions and found that stereotypes regarding older employees lead to discrimination against older workers (see also Chiu, Chan, Snape and Redman, 2001). To the extent that an older employee perceives that his actions are no longer instrumental for career advancement because of managerial biases against older workers, his or her motivation may gradually diminish. Limited opportunities for training and development (Greller and Simpson, 1999; OECD, 2005) and lack of feedback for ineffective performance further reduce the older employees work motivation. Finally, these stereotypes could affect older workers self perception if they believe that these stereotypes apply to them. Thus, it is possible that diminished motivation is not a direct result of aging, but a result of changes in managerial attitudes and treatment of older employees, resulting in a selffulfilling prophecy: limited (opportunities for) professional development and training will diminish motivation, skills and future employment opportunities of older workers, thereby validating stereotypes held by managers (Greller and Simpson, 1999).

4.4 The impact of organizational age on work motivation Organizational age refers to years of service (tenure), career stage, skill obsolescence and age norms in the company. The impact of the latter has been discussed in the previous paragraph. Tenure The primary incentive mechanism in organizations is that of tournament promotions. In this economic model employees compete to secure promotions into increasingly higher-compensated jobs with greater authority and autonomy (Carmichael, 1983; Lazear and Rosen, 1981). However, these tournament promotions have disappeared for


older workers, who have reached a point of reduced prospects for further promotion. Therefore, steep age-earnings profiles, which pay younger workers less than they are worth and older workers more than they are worth, aim to provide positive incentives for these tenured and plateaud workers (Lazear, 1998). However, we have insufficient knowledge about the relation between tenure and work motivation to draw any conclusions. Career stage Individuals progress through distinct occupational stages in their organizational careers (Hall and Nougaim, 1968; Super, 1984). Super (1984) proposes a career model with a sequence of stages, termed trial (emphasis on identifying interest, capabilities, fit, and professional self-image), establishment (with an emphasis on growth, advancement, and stabilization), maintenance (emphasis on accomplishments earlier achieved and maintaining self-concept) and decline (emphasis on developing a new self-image independent of career success), through which people tend to recycle during major transitions, such as changing jobs. According to Super, job attitudes vary with career stage. Many studies have shown that career stage indeed affects job attitudes and have generally found positive relationships between career stage and work commitment, job involvement and job and rewards satisfaction, and negative relationships between career stage and turnover intentions (e.g., Adler and Aranya, 1984; Cron and Slocum, 1986; Hall and Schneider, 1972; Lynn, Thi Cao and Horn, 1996; Morrow and McElroy, 1987; Mount, 1984; Ornstein, Cron and Slocum, 1989; Stumpf and Rabinowitz, 1981). However, no studies were found that examine the impact of career stage on work motivation. On the other hand, London (1990) did describe a model for understanding career motivation in later career. According to London (1990), career motivation includes three dimensions: career identity, career insight, and career resilience. Career identity is the extent to which people identify themselves with their work role. Career insight is how realistic people are about themselves and their careers. Career resilience is the extent to which people


resist career barriers. It determines a persons persistence in attaining career goals. Noe, Noe and Bachhuber (1990) examined the model proposed by London and found that career resilience is significantly higher in the later stages than in the first stages of a career, suggesting higher career motivation in later career stages. However, since career stage was operationalized by chronological age, whereas in this paper we replace chronological age by other conceptualizations of age, we cannot draw conclusions about the relation between career stage and work motivation based on this study. Finally, according to Hansson, DeKoekkoek, Neece, and Patterson (1997), the accomplishment of ones late career goals can result in the detachment from a career. To prevent this and support a worker to remain psychologically young through continued becoming (future sense of self, see paragraph 4.3), an open career path should be stimulated (Raynor, 1982). Skill obsolescence According to Fossum, Arvey, Paradise, and Robbins (1986) obsolescence can be the result of a deterioration of present skills or the failure to acquire new skills as job requirements change. Older workers have longer work histories over which skills and knowledge can erode. In addition, older workers may not have had sufficient opportunities to acquire new skills necessary to meet changing job requirements and may have lower expectations that the acquisition of new skills results in valued rewards (Fossum et al., 1986; Gist, Rosen and Schwoerer, 1988). Therefore, obsolescence is expected to increase with age. This is partly supported by earlier research (Dalton and Thompson, 1971; Shearer and Steger, 1975). However, no studies were found that examine the impact of obsolescence on work motivation. Shearer and Steger (1975) did suggest that relatively obsolescent individuals tend to be relatively less successful than their counterparts and would lower their expectations accordingly, with similar effects on motivation.


4.5 The impact of life span age on work motivation In the life span approach the older worker is defined by his or her life stage and family status. Levinsons (1986) life stage model proposes that adult life is characterized by a linear succession of stages, such as early, middle and late adulthood, divided into various sub stages associated with specific tasks to be accomplished, many of which are concerned with career development (as such the life stage model is connected with the career stage model of Super, see 4.4). However, in this model, life stage is operationalized by chronological age (see also Alderfer and Guzzo, 1979), and therefore, this model is of lesser interest for our study. Tamir and Antonucci (1981) examined differences in motivation through seven stages of the family life cycle, ranging from single unmarried adults to parents of children over 17 years of age and found that motive preferences (such as need for Achievement and need for Affiliation) appear to be remarkably similar and stable throughout the family life cycle. Similarly, Kidd and Green (2006) found that, among biomedical research scientists, family responsibilities didnt have an impact on career commitment and intention to remain in the profession. On the other hand, the wage, savings, pensions, and benefits, as well as the health and personal desires of the partner appeared to have great influence on the retirement decision (e.g. Fengler, 1975; Hayward et al., 1989; Smith and Moen, 1998). Several studies (e.g. Erdner and Guy, 1990) have found that individuals were less likely to retire if their spouses were working. Finally, according to economic research, the basis for retirement (and thus related to older worker work motivation) is that there is a changing relative value associated with earnings and leisure; specifically, leisure will be valued more as workers age (e.g., Hurd, 1996). The explanation for the shifting indifference curves is that work becomes harder for


older workers as their functional abilities deteriorate (Hurd, 1996), although this explanation is partly rebutted in paragraph 4.2 (biological age). Alternate explanations include social influences on the roles one takes as one ages (e.g., age norms), and within-market discrimination (Parnes, 1988). Vries et al. (2002) and Higgs et al. (2003) examined the retirement decision and found indeed that one of the reasons to retire, is the need for more leisure time for hobbies and relaxing (third age exit).

5 Discussion

5.1 Summary and future research This study aimed to increase our understanding of the impact of different conceptualizations of age on work motivation. The literature review indicated that research on aging and motivation (theories) is limited and conceptually ambiguous; different operationalizations of age and motivation (theories) are used. Consequently, in this study we have addressed the conceptualizations of age as proposed by Sterns and Doverspike (1989) and further developed by De Lange et al. (2006) to distinguish specific age-related factors influencing the work motivation of older workers. In Figure 2, we summarize the probable impact of the different conceptualizations of age on work motivation.


Underlying causal changes

Biological, psychological, social and societal changes across time

Type of definition

Chronological Age
Possible indicators

Functional Age

Psychosocial Age

Organizational Age

Life-span Age

Calendar age -

Changing cognitive abilities +/-

Declining physical health -

Self perception -

Social perception Motivation to work

Company tenure +/-

Career stage +/-

Skill obsolescence -

Life stage / family status -

Figure 2 Summary of the impact of different conceptualizations of age on motivation to work based on literature review 20

We have to make an important remark with respect to Figure 2; from the literature review it appears that different factors intervene in the relation between the different conceptualizations of age and motivation to work. For example, as mentioned, the function or profession of the worker intervenes in the relationship between physical health and work motivation. Furthermore, it could be that coping style intervenes in the overall relation between different conceptualizations of age and motivation to work. The many negative effects (-) in Figure 2 indicate that work motivation diminishes with age. However, earlier research (Paynter, 2004; Rhodes, 1983) also proves the contrary. As a consequence, older workers seem capable of coping with or adjusting to these age-related factors. An important question that should be addressed in future research is how older workers cope with or adjust to these negative agerelated factors. For instance, how do older workers cope with biased management decisions caused by stereotyping? Other intervening factors in the relation between the different conceptualizations of age and work motivation are: (Effective) retirement age; Changing values and preferences regarding generativity, social contacts, activities that support the self-concept and leisure time; Management or supervisor decisions, and consequently diminishing opportunities for training and development and promotions; HRM policies (including steep earning profiles and attractive exit routes).

Self and social perception also intervene in the relation between other conceptualizations of age and work motivation and can amplify the effect of other age-related factors, such as physical health, on work motivation. Furthermore, self and social perception influence each other reciprocally. This suggests that self and social perception have a great impact on the


work motivation of older workers. If this is supported by future research, organizations should strive to alter these perceptions. In sum, the aforementioned findings suggest that age-related factors are important in understanding the work motivation of older workers. As mentioned in the introduction, the specific aim of this study is to identify important age-related factors that should be addressed by HRM policies. The age-related factors that we have identified in this study that should be addressed by HRM policies are declining physical health, changing cognitive abilities and values and preferences, self perception, age norms, stereotypes and relative age, career stages (paths), skill obsolescence, management and supervisor decision-making, steep earning profiles and attractive exit routes. However, there is inconclusive research as to how these factors affect the work motivation of older workers. For organizations, especially the following research questions need to be addressed in future research: What is the impact of self and social perception on the work motivation of older workers and how can HRM policies influence these perceptions? What is the impact of career paths and goals on the work motivation of older workers? What is the impact of HRM policies on the work motivation of older workers?

5.2 Limitations Few empirical studies were found with the systematic literature review. Therefore, the literature review was extended, adding theoretical and conceptual studies. As a consequence, we cannot draw firm conclusions about the impact of different conceptualizations of age on work motivation. Hence, this study is an initiator for further research and provides an overview of unresolved issues and research questions that need to be studied in future research.


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