Why Older Workers Might be More Stressed Than Younger Ones

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, is part of a larger project aimed at improving employee health, safety, work-life balance and well-being.

The research team surveyed 243 municipal public works employees between the ages of 24 and 64 over the course of a year.

The study found that both younger and older workers had lower levels of overall stress when they were given more autonomy on the job, had good relationships with their bosses and felt they were respected and treated fairly at work. But when such resources were lacking, older workers reported significantly higher stress levels a year later than their younger colleagues.

The authors say the findings are especially important as the number of workers who are 55 and older continues to grow. The U.S. Labor Bureau estimates that older workers will account for nearly a quarter of the workforce by 2020.

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

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.

The study was supported by grants from the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Published online in April in the Journal of Vocational Behavior,

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