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Age related differences in employee motivation

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I’ve written before about the important role self-control plays in workplace cultures, and especially in minimizing the prospect of an abusive environment emerging.  A new study suggests that this key skill may be something that older workers tend to have in abundance.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Munster and Free University Berlin respectively, found that older employees were much better than their younger peers when it came to exercising restraint and self-control at work.  This then gave the older employees the edge in dealing with challenging situations at work.

The researchers suggest that self-control is fundamental to our success at work, largely because of the big role it plays in our motivation levels.  They suggest that our employee engagement often suffers when our ambitions are not being met by our work, whether they are extrinsic or intrinsic.

They reveal however that excellent self-control can often offset these feelings of low motivation.  The hypothesis was that older workers were better at exercising self control purely because they had more opportunities to do so, and thus had become better at it.

Participants in the study were asked to self-report both their implicit motivations at work and their extrinsic motivations.  They were also asked to rate their levels of self-control at work.  Suffice to say, any self-reporting should be taken with a pinch of salt, but alas the results did reveal a degree of age-related difference between the participants.

It emerged that younger employees who reported a difference between their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations also reported lower levels of motivation compared to their older peers.  The data suggests this may be down to higher self-control amongst the older cohort, with older employees using this self-control as a source of motivation when other sources are missing.

The researchers suggest that their findings may point to the need amongst younger employees for more resources in order to maintain their motivation, with things such as coaching offered by their employers to keep them engaged.

“Moreover, this result might also speak to life-span theories of human motivation, suggesting that people increasingly develop and use voluntary problem solving strategies to master challenges and obstacles” they write.

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