Coping and prevention. Rossi AM, Perrewé PL, Meurs JA, eds., Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2012 Jan; :53-71
The aging of the labor force is a well-documented phenomenon in developed countries around the world. In the U.S., this trend is associated with two events: (I) the aging of the baby boomer cohort, and (2) the early 1990s reversal of the long-term decline in labor force participation rates for individuals over 55 (Mosisa & Hipple, 2006). In the period 2005-2020, the number of U.S. workers aged 55 years and older is expected to increase from just over 24 million to nearly 40 million. This represents an average annual growth rate of 4.2%, compared to virtually no growth (0.20%) for workers in the younger 25-54 year age group or the workforce overall (0.76%; Toosi, 2006). Developed countries experiencing this type of worker demographic shift, including the U.S., have created new priorities in response to it. Especially in countries with little overall population growth, further attention will need to be given to ways to retain their older workforce members to sustain national economies. Additionally, there is a growing need to give greater attention to designing jobs that older persons can continue to safely and effectively perform. This is both a social imperative and a precondition for retaining older workers. Efforts to control levels of job stress faced by older workers may be an important measure for addressing these priorities. A large body of research documents age-related declines in physical and psychological functioning, including decrements in strength and endurance; sensory and psychomotor function; and aspects of cognitive functioning like cognitive speed, memory, and novel problem solving (Wegman & McGee, 2004). These declines raise the possibility that demanding conditions in today's workplace-including long work hours, lean production technologies, and rapid technological change-may be especially stressful for older workers and even place them at higher risk for illness and injury (Barnes-Farrell, 2005; Griffiths, 2007; Kowalski-Trakofler, Steiner, & Schwerha, 2005; NRC, 2004). However, research addressing age differentials in sensitivity to workplace exposures is sparse, and one popular conjecture is that risks associated with declining function might be offset by older workers' accumulated skills and experiences, compensatory strategies, and improved coping styles (Barnes-Farrell, 2005; Griffiths, 2007, Kowalski-Trakofler et aI., 2005; Robertson & Tracy, 1998; Wegman & McGee, 2004). A review of literature conducted by the National Research Council (NRC; Wegman & McGee, 2004) cites this offset hypothesis and found that, at least for performance outcomes, acquired experience may not fully compensate for effects of age-related declines. In addition to the risks stress may pose to the health and safety of older workers, accumulating literature also points to an influence of stressful working conditions on older persons' early withdrawal from the workforce. Pioneering studies on "workability" by the Finnish National Institute of Occupational Health have looked broadly at workplace factors contributing to aging workers' declining capacities and ensuing disability retirements. Of interest, these studies found that conditions commonly recognized as risk or protective factors for job stress (esteem, recognition, and supervisory relationships) were strong predictors of work capacity (Tuomi et aI., 1997; Tuomi, Ilmarinen, Martikainen, Aalto, & Klockars, 1997).