Older Workers Less Stressed (Find Out Why)

With age come wisdom and less stress. Older individuals say they experience less work-related stress, according to a new survey that indicates the secret could be the absence of children at home. 

"Many older workers are empty-nesters," said researcher Gwenith Fisher, an organizational psychologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR). "They don't have the same work-personal conflicts that younger and middle-aged workers deal with, juggling responsibilities to children along with their jobs and their personal needs."

The study, presented in San Francisco at an annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, has wide implications since by 2010 middle-aged and older workers are expected to outnumber their younger colleagues, say the study scientists.

Work-life balance

Fisher, Quinnipiac University researcher Carrie Bulger and their colleagues surveyed more than 1,500 people between the ages of 53 and 85 who worked at least 20 hours a week. The surveys included questions to get at the prevalence of various job stressors and how those stressors relate to a worker's life satisfaction and physical health.

"In general, older workers did not report high levels of work-related stressors," Fisher said.

  • About 50 percent of the entire survey group agreed or strongly agreed they have competing demands being made on them at work.
  • 47 percent said time pressures are a source of job stress.
  • 19 percent of older workers indicated they have poor job security.
  • 15 percent of the participants reported their work often or almost all the time interfered with their personal lives.
  • 2 percent said their personal lives interfered with their work.

Past research has shown that time pressure on all employees has ramped up over the last two decades.

"Technological advances like Blackberries, along with out-sourcing and down-sizing, have all increased the amount of work and pace at work," Fisher said. "But it's particularly important to look at the effects this pressure may have on older workers, whose health may be more vulnerable than that of younger workers."

Participants who reported low levels of stress were also more satisfied with their lives and in better physical health than the highly stressed.

Workplace wisdom

Fisher recommends some basic guidelines for fending off work-related stress. Sleep tops the list.

"In the short-term, you may be able to cut corners but in the long-term, cutting back on sleep may compromise your immune system and you'll be more likely to get sick," Fisher said.

Regular physical activity can go a long way toward helping your body handle the physiological effects of stress, while boosting your overall energy and mental well-being. At work and home, Fisher recommends active time management, such as to-do lists. And establishing a clear boundary between work and home-life can be critical.

"With all the technologies that blur the boundaries between work and personal life, it's important to set aside some time that isn't available for any work," Fisher said.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.