Aging and Work: Do Older Employees Prefer Other Ways to Handle Conflict in the Workplace?

Project: Research

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With a large proportion of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) entering middle and old age, it is estimated that more than one third of the workforce will be composed of adults aged above 45 years in the next two decades. This imposes an immediate need to investigate motivational and work behaviors of older employees (relative to their younger counterparts) in order to maintain work efficiency and team performance in organizations. Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) emphasizes that older adults focus more on emotionally meaningful goals when they perceive future time as increasingly limited (Carstensen, 2006). When handling conflict with social partners, older adults’ greater emphasis on emotional goals may motivate them to concern more for other parties, instead of personal interest. It is speculated that the way individuals handle interpersonal conflict would be guided by their goal orientation and therefore older employees’ responses to workplace conflict would be different from those of younger employees. This proposed project seeks to shed light on conflict responses across adulthood and assess their impacts on work-related outcomes and psychological wellbeing. Study 1 will examine conflict styles and motivational orientation in two hypothetical conflict situations between younger and older employees. It aims at investigating whether there are age differences in conflict styles and motivational orientation when dealing with the conflict, and whether motivational orientation would mediate the effect of age on conflict responses. Study 2 will make use of the daily diary method to record actual experiences of conflict management at work, as well as assessing daily work-related outcomes and psychological well-being. It is anticipated that age would moderate the impact of conflict styles on work-related outcomes and psychological well-being. Findings of the proposed project will provide insights and recommendations to employers and management personnel for understanding workplace behaviors of older workers and enhancing team performance in the organization.


Project number9041723
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/11/1115/10/14