There are few studies of subjective age, and ironically, the available research has been conducted amongst 65-years-old or over. This is why in recent research, Kunze, Raes and Bruch chose to focus on employees of various chronological ages, examining whether they feel younger or older than they actually are, and whether the subjective experience of age is associated with individual and organisation performance.
The findings, from a survey of over 15,000 employees in 107 companies, showed that people who feel younger than their actual age were more likely to achieve their goals at work, and contribute to organisational performance. In turn, individuals felt younger when their work was purposeful and valued.
Critically, in those organisations where links between purposeful work and feeling younger were evident, the individuals concerned had also identified themselves as working in a non-discriminatory environment. But that positive link disappeared when people felt there was a threat of age discrimination in the workplace. The same effect applied to organisational context, where only firms with rapidly changing external environments enabled greater performance for individuals who felt younger than their actual age, compared with companies operating in predictable environments.
This research provides an important alternative dimension for looking at the effects of age at work, as well as indicating how those effects can be managed through lowering of individuals’ subjective age, helping them feel younger. It also suggests that manipulations with subjective age may only be relevant for organisations with inclusive cultures and dynamic external environments. The authors also suggest – although more research needs to be done to confirm this hypothesis – that subjective age may be a dimension of diversity, and the more people in an organisation feel younger than they are, the more cohesion there would be between groups of people of different chronological age.
Posted on Wednesday Apr 19