In the media and in politics, sustainable employability is an ongoing issue. As the official retirement age is raised more and more by policymakers, people are wondering to what extent this will be feasible. Are ageing workers able to adapt to new working conditions and situations? How can we keep older employees motivated and enthusiastic about their work? How can we promote life-long learning?

In our study we wanted to find out to what extent we can stimulate employees to improve their own working experience and especially their personal fit with the job. We found that a workshop can help older workers make better use of their strengths at work. Furthermore, we discovered that this workshop also helped them improve their personal fit with the job. This means that after the workshop the match between workers’ personal characteristics (i.e., their strengths and interests) and the characteristics of their tasks was improved.

As we know from previous research, a good Person-Job fit (PJ-fit) leads to positive workplace outcomes, such as better performance, improved wellbeing and health, and higher work engagement. Optimising PJ-fit should therefore be a priority for organisations and employees. Surprisingly, however, we know little about the antecedents of such a fit, because research mainly focusses on selection of job applicants to improve fit. Although this is a good precondition for achieving a PJ-fit, it does not guarantee that these selected employees will continue to experience a good fit over time as the motives and abilities of the employees, as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to do their jobs will change.

In our approach we focused on employee job crafting, which refers to the self-initiated changes that individuals make in their work in order to make better use of their strengths and align their job tasks to their interest. For example, a business consultant with a strength in building relationships may craft her task of selling consulting services in such a way that she engages more often in one-on-one dialogues with individual clients or a history teacher who has an interest in music may incorporate music in her teaching or collaborate with a colleague who teaches music.

In order to stimulate employees to craft their job, we developed a workshop. This workshop consisted of seven steps, resulting in a concrete plan for how employees can align their work tasks better with their three most important personal strengths and interests. Concrete examples how workers can improve their person-job fit are to (a) change the task itself, (b) change the way of working on the task by learning new skills, or (c) increase or (d) decrease the time they would spend on the task (e.g., swapping task with colleagues or asking a colleague to take on parts).

We expected that relatively older workers would benefit more from our job crafting workshop than relatively younger workers, because of their life experience. Since people need to deal with several challenges over the lifespan, they develop stronger and clearer (professional) identities and get more insights in their strengths and interests. Consequently, they become more able and motivated to play to these. Accordingly, we expected (and found) that older workers are more able and motivated to craft their job in line with their strengths and interests, and are thus more responsive to a job crafting workshop compared with younger employees. We also found that older employees would show a stronger increase in their person-job fit compared with their younger colleagues.

The findings of our study provide organisations with a practical tool to increase job crafting behaviour and in turn PJ-fit of older employees. This is important, because a good PJ-fit is a strong predictor of job satisfaction, engagement, turnover, and performance. Because organisations worldwide are faced with the challenge of retaining and motivating ageing workers to remain actively engaged, the job crafting workshop might be a valuable tool for accomplishing these goals by helping ageing workers to better utilise their unique talents and strengths.

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Dorien T.A.M. Kooij is an Associate Professor at the Department of Human Resource Studies, Tilburg University, the Netherlands. Her research focuses on aging at work, and in particular on job crafting behavior of older workers, HR practices for older workers and on how work motivation changes with age. She has published in international peer reviewed journals such as Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Organizational Behavior and European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.

Marianne van Woerkom is an Associate Professor at the Department of Human Resource Studies, Tilburg University, the Netherlands. Her research interest include positive psychology and the strengths-based approach, talent management and employee development. She has published in journals like Journal of Applied Psychology, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, and Human Resource Management Review.

 

Julia Wilkenloh is a PhD candidate working at the Center of Excellence for Positive Organizational Psychology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research interests include the role of Prosocial Motivation (especially Public Service Motivation), sustainable employability, and the use of technologies in the workplace.