Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Productive Aging in the Workplace: Understanding Factors That Promote or Impede Subjective Well-Being at Work

Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Productive Aging in the Workplace: Understanding Factors That Promote or Impede Subjective Well-Being at Work

Article excerpt

It is well documented that staying active is an important contributor to maintaining health and vitality as we age (e.g., Morrow-Howell, Hinterlong, & Sherraden, 2001). Continued involvement in paid work is becoming increasingly salient within today's older adult population. The extent to which older adults benefit psychologically from their work roles, however, may depend in large part on their subjective experiences in the workplace (Matz-Costa, Besen, James, & Pitt-Catsouphes, 2014). Work engagement is seen as a work-specific state of well-being characterized by a high level of energy and strong identification with one's work (Bakker, Albrecht, & Leiter, 2011). Engagement connotes the quality of the connection or what occurs when someone is able to enthusiastically connect on a deep and meaningful level with work. A variety of individual and institutional factors may contribute to an individual's ability to engage with the various roles played in life, and these factors may change or become more salient in older adulthood as individuals begin to experience major life role transitions (e.g., children leaving the home or retirement), role loss (e.g., widowhood, loss of ability to drive, narrowing of social circles), declines in physical and/or mental capacity, and general role ambiguity (e.g., older adulthood has been referred to as the roleless role). Indeed, both empirical research and theory point to the notion that helping older adults to fully engage in personally valued roles can have important implications for health and well-being outcomes, from both a preventative and a restorative perspective (e.g., Elliott & Barris, 1987).

Although there is a well-developed body of knowledge on the antecedents and consequences of work engagement, little is known about the role of age or agerelated factors in these relationships. This study begins to fill this gap in the knowledge base by using the selective optimization with compensation theory of aging (Baltes & Baltes, 1990) to hypothesize that job demands and personal resources will interact in important ways in older adulthood (but less so in young and middle adulthood) to either enhance or diminish the positive relationship between job resources and engagement.

Theory and Empirical Literature

The Job Demands-Resources Model

The construct of work engagement within the industrial/organizational psychology literature is viewed theoretically as the positive antipode of burnout and is defined as "a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption" (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Salanova, 2006, p. 702). Vigor is described as a state characterized by high levels of energy and mental resilience while working-the willingness to invest effort in one's work and to persist even in the face of difficulties. Dedication refers to being strongly involved in one's work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge. Absorption is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one's work so that time passes quickly and one has difficulties detaching oneself from work (Schaufeli et al., 2006).

In the job demands-resources (JD-R) model, characteristics of work environments can be classified into two general categories: job demands and job resources:

Job demands refer to those physical, social, or organizational aspects of the job that require sustained physical or mental effort and are therefore associated with certain physiological and psychological costs. . . . Job resources refer to those physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that may do any of the following: (a) be functional in achieving work goals; (b) reduce job demands at the associated physiological and psychological costs; (c) stimulate personal growth and development. (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001, p. 501)

Within this model, job demands and job resources are thought to evoke two relatively independent psychological processes:

1. …

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