A motivational cross-lagged approach for examining subjective age and work ability.
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Subjective age is the age one feels, which can often differ from one’s chronological age. Research shows that this form of age identification has cross-cultural relevance when assessing life-course development (Barak, 2009). In the work context, subjective age is an important consideration because feeling younger is indicative of better cognitive functioning (Stephan, Caudroit, Jaconelli & Terracciano, 2014) and goal achievement (Kunze, Raes & Bruch, 2015). A work-related outcome that is associated with feeling younger than one’s chronological age for older adults is work ability (Laguerre, Barnes-Farrell & Petery, 2017, May). Work ability is a concept that is beginning to receive considerable attention in organizations that have an aging workforce because it may be important for organizations looking to extend the working life of their employees. Perceived work ability refers to a self-evaluation of the ability to continue working (McGonagle, et al. 2015). One person-centric variable that may be important for this type of evaluation is subjective age. Several researchers have demonstrated the relationship between subjective age and perceived work ability (Bobko & Barishpolets, 2002; Iskra-Golec, 2002; Kaliterna, Larsen, & Brkljacic, 2002). Recently, Laguerre, Barnes-Farrell and Petery (2017, May) found that older workers who felt younger than their chronological age reported higher work ability than older workers who ‘felt their age’ or older, while subjective age for younger workers was unrelated to appraisals of work ability. A limitation of these studies is that they have largely been cross-sectional. Moreover, motivations are important for work ability appraisals (Ilmarinen, Tuomi, & Seitsamo, 2005, June), yet, no study to date has systematically examined the role of life-stage-relevant motivational processes. The present study extends prior research by (1) using a motivational framework to assess relations between subjective age groups and perceived work ability; (2) testing whether career- and health-based motivations influence performance and work ability appraisals; and (3) utilizing a cross-lagged panel design and multigroup SEM to evaluate the directionality of relationships. Self-evaluations of meeting job demands should include whether the employee feels they have met work-related goals; thus, we hypothesize that workplace goal achievement will be positively associated with perceived work ability (H1). The motivational theory of lifespan development (Heckhausen, Wrosch & Schulz, 2010) proposes that people engage in goal achieving behaviors with the overall hope of controlling their environment. Based on this theory, we argue that as people age, goals shift from career- to health-based because one’s health is associated with autonomy. In line with this reasoning, we hypothesize that career-based motivations will be positively associated with workplace goal achievement (H2). Conversely, we further hypothesize that health-based motivations will be negatively associated with goal achievement (H3). Overall, we posit that goal achievement mediates the observed relationship between motivations and work ability (H4), and that this mediation is moderated by subjective age (H5) because subjective age is a developmental dimension along which people evaluate themselves and others (Montepare, 2009). See figure 1 conceptual models. Method Data were collected from a sample of 1436 full-time working adults using MTurk: two waves of data were gathered 4 weeks apart. In total, 908 participants (age range, 20 – 72) responded appropriately to attention-check items and provided enough clean data for T1 and T2 analyses. Subjective age (SA) was assessed using the question: “How old do you feel?” It was used in combination with self-reported chronological age (CA) to calculate a difference score (FA – CA), where a positive score indicates feeling older than one’s chronological age and a negative score indicates feeling younger than one’s chronological age. Perceived work ability was assessed using four items from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (McGonagle, et al. 2015). Workplace goal achievement was assessed in three ways: a) a measure of perceptions of supervisor ratings of job performance (Farh, Dobbins & Cheng, 1991), b) a single-item measure of individual goals reached that were agreed upon with direct supervisor (Kunze, Raes & Bruch, 2015), and c) a single-item adaptation of this measure that evaluates personal goals reached. The Protean Career Attitude scale assessed two types of career-based motivations (Briscoe, Hall & DeMuth, 2006). For health-based motivations, a modified version of the Work Centrality scale (Paullay, Alliger & Stone-Romero, 1994) was used to determine the level of centrality given to the health domain. Job demands, health status, gender, and tenure were controls. Results and Discussion The mediation models were tested using a two-wave cross-lagged panel design in Mplus 8.1. First, we conducted a fully cross-lagged test using nested structural models. Second, multigroup moderation analyses were performed by comparing nested models for improved fit by allowing paths to vary across subjective age groups (i.e., feel younger, feel same age, feel older). See tables 1-3 for fit statistics and chi-square comparisons for all models. Allowing paths to vary by subjective age groups significantly improved model fit indices, providing support for the argument that subjective age moderates the way that motives relate to self-appraised work ability. Further, reverse causation models were generally poorer fitting than the proposed causality models, suggesting the directionality of hypothesized relationships were accurate. When subjective age was not considered, all hypotheses were not supported. Only two models had significant (non-autoregressive) cross-lagged paths: models M2bcausal and M3bcausal. In models M2bcausal and M3bcausal (tables 2 and 3, respectively), workplace goal achievement had a significant cross-lagged effect on work ability, only among those felt the same age. Model M2bcausal also showed that values-driven career-based motivations significantly predicted work ability (β=.247, p <.05), but only for those who felt older than their chronological age. The values-driven subscale assesses the degree to which people act on their own accord when faced with organizational pressures that do not align with their views. This is an unexpected finding because feeling older is often indicative of worsened work and life outcomes; yet, our results suggest that values-driven career motivations may buffer against negative consequences for this group, at all ages. We use these findings to discuss the relevance of motivations, workplace goal achievement, and subjective age for work ability appraisals across the lifespan, as well as methodological considerations for future research.
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