Making Their Own Hours: Flexible Work Arrangements Impact Older Workers’ Job Performance

By retaining older workers, organizations can benefit from their accumulated skills and experience. One study investigated how supporting older workers through culture and flexible work arrangements impacts their job performance.

Over 5,000 older workers (age 60 to 65) from 624 organizations completed a survey about limitations to work performance due to a chronic health condition, access to flexible work arrangements, and how well the organizational climate supports healthy aging and psychological safety. This sample only included older workers who reported having been diagnosed with arthritis, cardiovascular disease, or a sleep disorder.

Most workers with a chronic health condition reported that the condition limited their performance at work to some degree, with 14 to 19% reporting severe limitations at work. Analysis showed that when older workers had access to flexible work hours, they were less likely to report that their arthritis or sleep disorder limited their work  performance, and there was a similar (but not significant) trend for older workers with cardiovascular disease. Having a flexible work location (e.g., ability to work from home) or access to phased retirement (e.g., reducing hours worked), however, did not influence work performance.

In relation to organizational climate, older adults from workplaces that supported psychological safety (e.g., workers were not afraid to make mistakes) were less likely to report any of the three conditions limited their performance. A healthy aging climate (e.g., focus on health, safety, and employee well-being) was related to fewer work limitations for workers with a sleep disorder and workers with multiple chronic conditions.

These results reflect how organizational characteristics can influence older workers’ performance, particularly for those with chronic health conditions. Flexible work arrangements are often seen as extra perks, but in fact can have an important impact on work performance. If employers want to maximize the benefit of these workers’ experience and skills, offering a flexible schedule and promoting a culture of wellness are ways to start. The opportunity to work from home or for phased retirement were not related to work performance in this sample, but future research may uncover other benefits of these arrangements.

 

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Source:

Vanajan A, Bültmann U, and Henkens K. Health-related work limitations among older workers—the role of flexible work arrangements and organizational climate. The Gerontologist (2020); 60(3), 450-459.

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