How can organizations help employees to enjoy longer careers?

Human Resources

Last week, the government proposed new pension measures to reduce budgetary deficits, a trend that is expanding to all industries in Belgium. This means that organizations are challenged to keep these older workers motivated, effective and cooperative at work.

How can insights in leadership help organizations and employees realize this challenge? Our research shows that sharing leadership increases workers’ motivation as it creates the space to act from their own values, goals and interests. It also decreases their intention to retire earlier.

We will have to work longer, but what about our motivation?

The average age of the Belgian population is decreasing, so it seems. The average Belgian born in 2015, will only reach 80.9 years of age. Especially if you are a woman you might feel the difference: your life expectancy decreased with 123 days. This probably won’t alter our working career and we don’t expect that this will impact the ongoing discussion on the increase of the retirement age. European studies project that the percentage of older workers (55y or older) will continue to increase while the percentage of younger workers (25y - 39y) will decrease at the same rate (European Commission, 2005).

This trend toward an aging workforce is urging organizations to look into new ways to motivate their older employees to work longer and continue to add value to the organization. A question that poses itself is how organizations can enable these employees to continue to work because they want to, and not only because they have to. How can they tap into workers’ autonomous motivation? This is a form of motivation “in which individuals act from their deep values, goals and interests. Autonomously motivated individuals pursue actions that are concordant or consistent with the underlying self; their behaviors are experienced as self-determined” (Graves and Luciano, 2013, p.519).

A trend towards sharing leadership

A second trend that imposes itself is the need for stronger, better and different leadership. More and more leaders are acknowledging that bureaucratic, top-down leadership might not be the best solution to ensure that their organization stays on the top of things. It might be more effective to share the responsibilities of providing direction, alignment and commitment (Drath et al., 2008) in a team. Contemporary leadership theories are conceptualizing a leadership as “a broader, mutual influence process independent of any formal role or hierarchical structure and diffused among the members of any given social system” (DeRue and Ashford, 2010, p.627).

This definition implies that leadership responsibilities are not bound to one single leader anymore. Leadership can be shared in a team. Shared leadership is defined as “a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals or both” (Pearce and Conger, 2003, p.1).

Sharing leadership keeps us motivated and willing to work longer

As we were wondering how these two trends interact, we conducted a study and questioned 155 employees above 45 years on their retirement intentions and the degree of shared leadership in their team.

We found that employees who feel autonomously motivated in their work intend to retire later, and that shared leadership positively impacts autonomous motivation. Hence, sharing leadership in organizations will not only increase financial performance, team effectiveness and team member satisfaction (Wassenaar & Pearce, 2011), but will also motivate employees to prolong their career.

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