Successful aging at work: The role of occupational future time perspective.

About the author: Bryndis Steindórsdóttir is a PhD candidate in the department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School. You can contact her at bryndis.d.steindorsdottir@bi.no

Given that labour force participation of older employees has substantially increased in the past decades, it is important to identify factors that may help employees to remain longer in the employment market. In this context, how employees perceive their future career could be important – since the subjective sense of future time plays an essential role for motivation and reactions towards career-related obstacles.

When people are younger, they perceive that they have their whole life ahead of them – which makes them more focused on goals that can help them to prepare for the future. As people become older, this perception naturally changes, and people perceive their future as more limited. This focus on striving towards resource accumulation declines and goals related to relationship quality and emotional meaningfulness become more salient. While age and time perceptions are strongly related, these changes in motivation do not occur due to chronological age effects per se, but rather due to changes in how people perceive the time they have left in their life.

Bryndis Steindórsdóttir

Throughout my doctoral studies, I have been interested in finding out what resources and support individuals need when they are young and perceive they have their whole career ahead of them versus when people become older and perceive their future career moving closer towards the end.

In one of my studies, I wanted to examine how people with different perceptions of their occupational future, respond to career obstacles. Specifically, I examined whether the negative impact of emotional exhaustion for career satisfaction would be different for people that perceive their occupational future as more open versus those that perceive their occupational future as more limited.

In the context of careers, occupational future time perspective refers to people’s perception of remaining opportunities and time left in their working life. Those who perceive their occupational future as more limited often have more pessimistic outlook on their future and feel less confident about reaching their goals. Research shows that perceiving your occupational future as more open and filled with possibilities is related to more positive work-related outcomes, such as more job satisfaction, engagement, adaptability, and motivation to learn.

In this study, I collected survey data from 363 individuals in various occupations at two time points, with nine months between surveys. As expected, I found that those who experienced emotional exhaustion, felt less satisfied about their career success nine months later, accounting for how they perceived their career success in the first survey. More importantly, this relationship did depend on how people perceived the time and opportunities left in their career. The negative relationship between emotional exhaustion and career satisfaction was stronger for those who perceived their occupational future as more limited. These findings indicate that those who perceive their future time and opportunities in employment as more limited may require more support to handle obstacles (such as burnout) in relation to their career.

What can organizations, leaders, and the individuals themselves do to enhance successful aging at work?

  1. Extend people’s occupational future time perspective. By extending people’s occupational future time perspective, organizations can help people to successfully age at work.
  2. Redesign jobs. Research shows that job autonomy and job complexity positively promote occupational future time perspective. Therefore, organizations could, for example, redesign jobs by providing more challenging tasks and greater job autonomy.
  3. Increase the focus on health. Health is an important factor that influences how we perceive our future in employment. Organizations can facilitate occupational future time perspective by introducing well-being programs aimed at taking better care of physical and psychological health of older employees.
  4. Leader’s support. Given that older individuals have more need for high quality social relations and emotionally meaningful goals in comparison to their younger counterparts, they may require more emotional support from their leader.
  5. Engage in life management strategies. Research on lifespan development shows that the use of life management strategies facilitates successful aging at work. Older people may benefit the most from engaging in “compensation and loss-based strategies”. This might involve reconsidering goals and asking others for help.

References:

Rudolph, C. W., Kooij, D. T., Rauvola, R. S., & Zacher, H. (2018). Occupational future time perspective: A meta‐analysis of antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior39(2), 229-248.

Carstensen, L. L. (2006). The influence of a sense of time on human development. Science312(5782), 1913-1915.

Freund, A. M., & Baltes, P. B. (1998). Selection, optimization, and compensation as strategies of life management: correlations with subjective indicators of successful aging. Psychology and aging13(4), 531.

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