- Older workers who experience a decline in their reasoning abilities are more likely to retire prematurely and face chronic health problems, according to a study published Monday by the American Psychological Association (APA). But researchers also found older workers whose reasoning abilities matched the demands of their job had fewer health problems and stayed in the workforce longer than those who lost their reasoning abilities, Margaret Beier, a professor at Rice University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
- For the study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers collected seven years of data on the cognitive abilities and health and retirement status of 383 people — who were all at least age 51 at the beginning of the study — and found that the strain caused by a poor fit between job demands and reasoning abilities could push workers to leave the workforce. Researchers used 13 different measures to gauge participants' cognitive abilities and asked them for information about their physical health.
- Beier said that reasoning abilities decline with age, meaning employers must be aware of how the demands placed on workers can negatively impact their health. Older workers can handle very complex jobs if they have the mental resources to match job demands, APA said.
Older workers are active in the labor force, in some cases past the age of traditional retirement, be it due to a lack of retirement savings, a desire to stay active or other reasons. Some employers, wanting to make the transition easier for workers who do wish to retire, have instituted phased retirement processes that allow those workers to continue earning a living in a reduced role. This might take the form of a part-time or flexible work arrangement.
There's benefit to the employer for keeping older workers engaged, too, especially when it comes to preserving institutional knowledge. "Experienced workers offer much in terms of knowing the company culture and being able to mentor younger employees, so it is vital that we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes," Beier said.
Yet uncertainty over when workers will retire can also make it difficult for employers to prepare. According to a 2018 Willis Towers Watson study, only half of employer respondents said they had an understanding of when their workers would retire, even though 83% said a significant number of their workers were at or nearing retirement. Employers may need firm retirement dates so they're able to assign the retiree's responsibilities to a coworker, recruit and hire a replacement, or train others to do the retiree's job — processes that take time and effort to carry out.
But the APA study also highlighted the health problems and stress older workers face. A separate survey by Welltok found that 64% of employees, largely middle-aged workers and women, reported feeling stressed at work. Personalized well-being programs could help older workers better manage stress and health issues so that they can remain productive on the job.