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Older workers’ stress levels higher when support, resources are lacking: study

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Portland, OR — Older workers feel more stress than their younger colleagues when employers don’t provide the support and resources necessary for employees to do their jobs well, results of a recent study from Portland State University suggest.

Researchers surveyed 243 municipal public works employees between the ages of 24 and 64 in the Pacific Northwest over the course of a year, measuring the impact of job autonomy, dealings with a supervisor and procedural fairness within an organization on stress levels.

When workers had more autonomy on the job, good relationships with their bosses, and felt respected and fairly treated, overall worker stress levels were lower. However, when these were lacking – based on employee survey responses – older workers experienced significantly higher levels of stress compared with their younger counterparts.

“Older workers are a pretty diverse group in terms of interests and needs,” Donald Truxillo, study co-author and psychology professor at PSU, told Safety+Health. “The key here is (for employers) to be attuned to the needs of older workers – and workers of all ages – and be open to letting them tell you what they need to be able to reduce stress and perform their jobs effectively.” The authors note that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers are expected to account for nearly 25 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

To help all workers manage the demands of their jobs, the authors recommend employers:

  • Provide workers with different skill sets and experience the flexibility to complete tasks based on their strengths and expertise, when possible.
  • Emphasize to supervisors the importance of building strong relationships with workers of all ages.
  • Practice transparency in decision-making and implementation processes, offering ways for employees to voice concerns and share input.

“Older workers can think of ways that they might apply their accumulated skills in new ways, communicate this to their supervisors, and work with them to help redesign or craft their jobs,” Truxillo said.

The study was published in the August edition of the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

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