Want Workers to Retire on Time? Match Job With Mental Capacity

While employers may not want employees to work past retirement age, they also may not want to lose workers forced to retire early. Research suggests companies must be aware of how employee health can be negatively affected by the demands placed on them.

These days, the retirement age of 65 isn’t as sticky. A recent survey from the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute found one in five survey respondents continue to work past that age.

Fidelity Investments’ most recent Plan Sponsor Attitudes Study found that nine in 10 plan sponsors reported that they have had employees work past their desired retirement date. Seventy-three percent of sponsors acknowledged that there are costs when employees delay retirement, including increased benefit costs (37%), reduced mobility for younger employees (33%), challenges for strategic workforce planning (31%) and lower productivity (27%).

But, while retirement plan sponsors may not want additional costs from employees retiring later, they also may not want to lose valuable knowledge and the ability for older workers to mentor younger ones if employees retire too early. Being forced to retire early may also mean the employee hasn’t saved enough to sustain himself through retirement.

Research published by the American Psychological Association found older workers whose reasoning abilities no longer allow them to meet the demands of their jobs may be more likely to develop chronic health conditions and retire early.

The researchers used a subset of data from the Cognition and Aging in the USA survey, collected between 2007 and 2014 from 383 participants who remained in the study for the full seven years. The survey looked at a variety of factors, but the researchers used the data collected on participants’ abilities, health and retirement status over the course of the survey. At the start of the survey, participants were all at least 51 years old. The average age was 61.

The researchers measured cognitive ability using a combination of 13 different measures, including verbal analogies, number series and calculations. The researchers also measured demands from jobs using the O*NET database, which reports the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes needed for many jobs in the United States. Participants were also asked to report if they had any of nine health conditions, including high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and lung disease.

The study found that having reasoning abilities that matched the demands of the job was important to the positive experience of work in older age. When reasoning abilities required by a job exceeded a worker’s abilities, workers reported more health conditions and were more likely to be retired. When workers’ reasoning abilities met or exceeded a job’s demands, they reported fewer chronic health conditions.

“We found that a poor fit between reasoning abilities and job demands might cause older workers to experience stress and strain that serves to push them out of the workforce,” said Margaret Beier, PhD, of Rice University and lead author of the study.

Reasoning abilities decline with age, so organizations must be aware of how employee health can be negatively affected by the demands placed upon an employee, said Beier. Older workers can handle highly complex jobs as long as they have the mental resources to match the job demands.

The results of this study could inform decisions on how jobs for older employees should be designed to reduce the potential for negative health outcomes and retain these veteran employees as long as possible before retirement, according to Beier.

The article“Age and Job Fit: The Relationship Between Demands-Ability Fit and Retirement and Health” was written by Beier; Wendy Jackeline Torres, MA, Rice University; Gwenith G. Fisher, PhD, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Public Health; and Lauren E. Wallace, PhD, Colorado State University. It is available at www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/ocp-ocp0000164.pdf.