For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Emotional Competencies Across Adulthood: State of Knowledge and Implications for the Work Context"

by Doerwald, Friederike; Scheibe, Susanne; Zacher, Hannes; Van Yperen, Nico W (2016)


It has been proposed that emotional competencies are subject to age-related increases and, thus, represent strengths of older workers. However, this assumption is based on limited evidence for positive age differences in one particular emotional competency, namely emotion regulation. Age-related differences in two other key emotional competencies, emotion perception and emotion understanding, have been largely ignored. The present review systematically examines the extant literature on the associations between age and the competencies to perceive, understand, and regulate emotions. For each competency, we further distinguish whether it concerns own emotions or those of others. We identified 195 studies that met our inclusion criteria. Overall, we found moderate support for the proposed age-related advantage in emotional competencies. Regarding the working lifespan, findings suggest that older workers generally function equally well as, or slightly better than young workers on most emotional competencies (i.e., perceiving, understanding and regulating own emotions, and understanding others’ emotions). For perceiving others’ emotions, there was robust evidence of lower performance beyond age 65, yet deficits did not show consistently for middle-aged adults (i.e., most older workers). For regulating others’ emotions, evidence was too limited to draw conclusions. We discuss implications of age differences in emotional competencies for work processes and outcomes and outline future research directions.

Key Passage

Third, for most competencies the evidence suggests maintenance of competencies across the (working) lifespan or only small positive age trends. This may raise the question of the meaningfulness of age differences in emotional competencies for work outcomes. It is important to note, however, that even maintenance of, or slight gains in emotional competencies with age is an important conclusion, given the robust negative age trends found in other domains, such as fluid cognitions (Salthouse, 2012). The findings of the present review are in stark contrast to the predominant portrayal of age as a period of decline that has manifested in negative age stereotypes, diminishing older workers’ employability, motivation, and performance (Ng & Feldman, 2012; Hertel & Zacher, in press). The persistence of these negative age stereotypes suggest that older workers’ emotional competencies are neither sufficiently acknowledged nor fully exploited in occupational settings (p.171)


Retirement, Ageing, Emotional Competence, Mental Decline, Emotion Regulation, Mental Development


Psychological Centrality of Work

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