Dorien Kooij

Successful aging at work: What works?

Science Works

Now that the population is aging and what with the shortages in the labor market, it is important that employees continue to work up to their statutory retirement age or even beyond. But not everybody can or wants to. Job crafting can help aging employees to continue to enjoy their work.

Dorien Kooij, Professor of Human Resource Studies at Tilburg University, has conducted research for years into, among other things, aging at work and the question of how work motivation changes as workers age. At the moment, there are rising staff shortages in numerous sectors. “And this labor shortage will only increase in the coming years now many people are due to retire. So it is all the more important to stimulate people to work longer, especially as life expectancy continues to rise. It would be an enormous waste if we did not make the best use of that valuable pool of human capital.”

Dorien Kooij

Older employees often face age stereotypes in the workplace

Hoogleraar Human Resource Studies Dorien Kooij

Not too keen

However, in practice, successful aging at work is not always easy. According to Dorien, that is mainly due to employers’ attitudes. “Older employees often face age stereotypes in the workplace. They are perceived to report sick more often and to not be as flexible. As a result, employers do not even contemplate the question of good ways to retain their older workers. But older workers themselves are not always very keen to work longer either. They have the feeling they can barely keep up – for instance, with developments around digitalization – and that there is no longer a good fit between their job and their capacities.”

Job crafting

It is therefore all the more important that all stakeholders regularly reflect on whether the match is still sufficient, Dorien says. “Job crafting is about that match. What do you really enjoy doing? Does your current job sufficiently match your knowledge and experience? Or are adjustments needed to make sure you can use your talents effectively? Crafting an interesting job or discussing tasks with the supervisor will make it more attractive to workers to continue working.”

In Dorien’s practical experience, the topic of job crafting is often raised too late in the day. “Employer and employee frequently do not sit down together until someone has dropped out or has indicated that they can no longer cope. My advice would be to integrate the topic of job crafting in the annual interview cycle, to prevent this topic from becoming lost in the day-to-day hustle and bustle.”

Job crafting is also about a better division of tasks

Satisfaction and meaning

Job crafting does not need to be anything spectacular, Dorien emphasizes. “I know a care worker who started making music with his patients and had a lot more job satisfaction as a result. And an HR manager who decided to do more in the way of career coaching and derived an enormous amount of satisfaction and meaning from it. But it could also entail a more fundamental change. For instance, a civil servant with an interest in IT set up an organization-wide project around the transition towards working in the cloud. In mutual consultation, he transferred some of his original duties to a colleague.”

Dorien’s advice is to discuss your wishes within your team. “Job crafting is also about a better division of tasks. Sometimes certain tasks that are a drain on your energy prove to be right up a colleague’s alley.”

Physical and mental health

Ultimately, successful aging at work also hinges on physical and mental health, Dorien states. “So employers need to invest in vitality programs, for instance, and make sure that work pressure does not spiral out of control, for example, by giving workers more autonomy. And chances are you will be able to benefit from your older workers’ experience on the work floor for years to come.”