Workplace demographics are expected to change substantially in the next ten years as older workers begin to occupy a larger percentage of the workforce. I am primarily interested in researching the effects of aging on motivation and performance in the workplace. The process of aging has been primarily conceptualized as one of biological decline, but less well understood are the effects of age on motivation, interests, and how one is perceived. I am very interested in exploring each of these issues. In addition, I am also very interested in opportunities to use the methods and practices of I/O psychology to better the teaching profession. There are several researchers in I/O psychology who attempt to improve the training and selection of teachers for all age levels. To me, this represents an excellent opportunity for I/O psychologists to provide a public service to the larger community.
The impact of age on self-efficacy and motivation. Aging leads to inevitable declines in physical ability, processing speed and memory performance. Individuals anticipate such declines and often modify the goals they choose to pursue. These changes emerge as a function of one’s perceived declining abilities, viewing time as a limited resource, and age-related norms. In research I conducted with my advisor, Dr. Margaret Beier, we explored learning motivation and efficacy of adults. Specifically, we framed a computer training course and a public speaking course as advanced or basic and explored differences in interest in the courses. We found that goal orientation, efficacy and age all affected adults’ interest in participating in these courses. In particular, age predicted interest in basic computer training among adults with higher performance orientation, suggesting that perhaps older adults who seek the opportunity to demonstrate competence to others may be more interested in training described as basic. I presented these results at the 2008 meeting of the Academy of Management in Anaheim.
In the future, I hope to explore the impact of age-related stereotypes on the motivation and self-efficacy of adults. Researchers have discovered that age is associated with increased preference for familiar others over meeting novel strangers. In a chapter I wrote with Dr. Mark Leary for the Handbook of Motivation Science, we explored the presence of a need to belong underlying much of human behavior. I am interested in exploring how a need to belong changes across the lifespan. Additionally, there is an emerging literature demonstrating that if adults are made aware of age-related stereotypes, then their performance on a variety of tasks suffers. I hope to identify both how these stereotypes can be conveyed to the adults (e.g., perhaps by indicating that they are relatively older than other participants) and what factors lead individuals to identify with being “older” (i.e., identifying with the stereotyped group).
In all of this research, I am attempting to highlight the fact that age is a broader psychological construct than is captured by simply asking individuals to report their age. I hope to demonstrate through continued research that age represents subjective re-evaluation of goals and abilities that affect an individuals’ motivation and interest across the lifespan.
Stereotypes of older workers. The evidence of age discrimination in the workplace is varied. Some researchers have found evidence that the stereotype that specific biases against older workers exist (e.g., older workers are less able to learn) but most meta-analyses exploring age and performance ratings across studies finds little evidence of bias against older workers. I have been assisting Dr. Beier and Dr. Dan Beal in exploring whether the effect of age and performance may be modified by the type of job the study examined. In our meta-analysis, we are coding for the type of occupation the study explored as well as the importance of the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) associated with the occupations. We anticipate that occupations that rate KSAs known to decline with age (e.g., those dependent on processing speed or novel problem solving) to demonstrate a more negative association between age and performance than other occupations.
In addition to exploring potential moderators of age bias, I am also interested in exploring mediating mechanisms of bias against older workers. In previous research with Dr. Traci Giuliano, I explored the impact of providing excuses for poor performance. Specifically, we explored whether describing a self-reported self-handicap or a behavioral self-handicap would impact perceivers’ ratings. For my dissertation, I am revisiting this research and exploring the attributions made for poor performance as a function of the target’s age and the rater’s age. I anticipate that younger workers attribute the poor performance of older workers to their age and are less inclined to penalize the older workers or provide them with training opportunities. Fewer studies have explored the attributions older evaluators make for the failures of older workers, but I hypothesize that they may attribute failure to unstable factors and thus will rate older workers more harshly but also believe that they have greater potential for development. Beyond this study, I plan to explore how individuals’ perceptions of aging impact their perceptions of older workers and how this may impact performance evaluation.
Development of selection instruments and measures. Beyond the areas I listed above, one topic in which I am particularly interested is exploring factors which affect the validity of selection instruments. To that end, I have been assisting my advisor in her efforts to create a measure of teacher leadership behavior that can be used to select and train high school science teachers. We have submitted a grant to allow us to explore the behaviors that demonstrate effective teacher leadership among educators to create a tool that could identify potential teacher leaders. We have also created a measure to select guides at the Children’s Museum of Houston. Additionally, I have been fortunate to work with my advisor and fellow graduate students on exploring the role the class environment plays on teacher evaluation. Our research indicates that teacher performance ratings are greatly impacted by the environment in which they operate. Specifically, we found that in poor classroom environments, higher ability teachers outperformed lower ability teachers. In better class environments, however, high and low ability teachers were viewed as being more equal. Whether this means that teachers in good classrooms are rated higher regardless of actual ability or that a good classroom can compensate for a lower quality teacher has yet to be explored. Finally, I have worked with my Dr. Beier, Dr. Steve Motowidlo and several graduate students to develop a process of creating single-item Situational Judgment Tests (SJT). These shorter SJTs are easier to develop and administer than the more traditional SJTs making them an attractive alternative.
I look forward to pursuing each of these research streams in the future. My training in I/O psychology methodology and statistics has provided me with the tools necessary to empirically explore each of these important issues. I also believe each of these areas involve research in which I can incorporate interested students as research assistants. I have been fortunate to find skilled collaborators and interested, receptive audiences at the annual meetings for the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology, the America Psychological Society, and the Academy of Management. Such support leads me to be very excited about the potential for these research streams to produce important advancements in the coming years.