Adult Online Learning: The Experience of Skill Building in the GT OMSCS Program

PIs:  Julia Melkers (Arizona State University) and Ruth Kanfer

Project:  Online skill building graduate programs are rapidly gaining popularity among adults seeking to reskill or upskill their competencies in bright prospect fields, such as computer science. The GT OMSCS program has been a leader and innovator in implementing an exclusively online graduate program in computing from an accredited university for a fraction of the cost of traditional, residential programs.  Through the support of the College of Computng, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, our interdisciplinary team has developed a cumulative research stream on the experiences and outcomes of adults in the program, particularly with respect to women and underrepresented groups.

Click here to learn more about the Kanfer lab
Click here to learn more about OMSCS
Click here to learn more about the Melkers lab


Forum: Building an Applied Science to Support Working Learners

A virtual assembly funded by the National Science Foundation took place across four weeks in July 2021. The purpose of the assembly was to build a framework for applied research to promote educational and mobility opportunities for “working learners” – workers without college degrees. The full report can now be viewed here. To view the launch event, click this video.

Personnel Psychology Call for Papers/Special Issue

Date: Monday, September 23, 2019

Personnel Psychology has a call for papers for their special issue, entitled “What’s Age got to do with it? Age and Age-Related Differences in the workplace.” Special Issue Editors are all Work Science Center members: Margaret Beier, Rice University;  Ruth Kanfer, Georgia Institute of Technology;  Dorien Kooij Tilburg University:  Donald Truxillo, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.

Eldercare and Workers

By: Keaton Fletcher

Research Hole: Workers Caring for Elders

Work Science Center Network Member Boris Baltes teamed up with four other researches to put out a plea: help fill the knowledge gap about workers caring for elders. These five scientists dedicated a year to soliciting original research about employees providing eldercare. As a result, they received thirteen papers, six of which they featured in a special issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology. 

The collaborators cite the “seismic shifts” coming to the demographic of the American workforce. They note that by 2030, one out of five adults in the US will be age 65 or older. Even in the current state of the US workforce, the same proportion of employees, one out of five, report that they’re currently providing care for an elderly person. Despite the potentially large effects that eldercare can have on an employee’s worklife, the researchers realized that organizations have not engaged mechanisms to accommodate the increasingly common. Nor have I-O psychologists. 

The introduction to the issue defines eldercare as a person informally provides care for a needy senior without compensation or acquiring the specific skills to do so. This emotionally and physically taxing work often arises when a family member needs care. One of the papers submitted suggests creating a spectrum of care to enable researchers to examine more closely the different sub-groups of care recipients and the corresponding effects on workers. 

Again, while the researchers imagine an outsize influence that eldercare may have on workers, the extant I-O literature remains quiet. The article ends by speculating the potential benefits of eldercare. They propose it could help with work-family enrichment, enhance worker mood, and so forth. These ideas remain pure conjecture, though. In sum, the dearth of research on eldercare and work offers a huge opportunity for I-O psychologists looking to make an important contribution to the field. 

Work Cited

Griggs, T.L., Lance, C.E., Thrasher, G. et al. Eldercare and the Psychology of Work Behavior
in the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Business Psychology (2019).

Network Research Highlight: Outcomes of Negative Age Stereotypes

By: Keaton Fletcher

Meta-stereotypes are those that we think other people hold against a group. So an age meta-stereotype is what you think other people think about your age group. These stereotypes can be positive or negative. Work Science Center Network Member, Lisa Finkelstein, led a team of researchers, including fellow WSC Network Member, Hannes Zacher, in a study of how these age meta-stereotypes might lead to outcomes like conflict, avoidance, or work engagement. The researchers asked 185 U.S. employees to complete surveys every day for five consecutive work days. When people held negative old (but not young) age meta-stereotypes they felt higher levels of a motivating type of stress, called challenge reactions (i.e., you feel like this is a stressor you can overcome). In other words, when people felt as though others thought their age group held the negative stereotypical qualities of older adults (e.g., technophobic, slow, narrow minded), regardless of their actual age, they viewed that as a challenge that was stressful but could be overcome. When people held negative young (but not old) age meta-stereotypes the felt higher levels of a de-motivating type of stress, called threat reactions (i.e., you feel like this cannot be overcome and can harm your self-identity). In other words, when people felt that others thought their age group held negative stereotypically young traits (e.g., inexperienced, lazy, immature), regardless of their actual age, they viewed that as a threat to their core identity. Positive age meta-stereotypes had no effects.

When people had higher challenge or threat reactions, they were more likely to engage in conflict at work and were also more likely to avoid interacting with others at work. When people had high levels of challenge reactions or low levels of threat reactions, they were more likely to feel engaged with their work. Interestingly, people who are high in a set of traits called core self-evaluations (i.e., self-esteem, self-efficacy, emotional stability, sense of control) they were less likely to respond to negative old age meta-stereotypes with challenge reactions.

Taken together these results offer an interesting narrative about individuals’ perceptions of others’ stereotypes. Specifically, individuals who feel as though others hold a negative view of their age group that is similar to stereotypical older workers, they view that as a challenge and are more likely to engage in conflict, avoid interacting with others, but also to feel more engaged at work. This is less the case, however, for those workers who hold themselves in high regard. Workers who feel as if others view their age group in a way that is similar to the negative stereotypes of younger workers, are more likely to view this as a threat and are thus also more likely to engage in conflict and avoid interactions with others, but do not see the positive boost in work engagement. It is also worth noting that when individuals thought others had positive views about their age group that were similar to positive stereotypes about older or younger workers, that had no effect on their reactions or behavioral outcomes. Further, younger workers were more likely to feel that others held negative views of their age group than older workers, and this includes both negative stereotypically old and stereotypically young traits. Companies should therefore take steps to reduce negative stereotypes, particularly of younger workers, or provide resources to individuals to combat the negative outcomes of feeling as if others have a negative view of them.

Building a Bridge from Fulltime Work to Retirement

By: Riley Swab

Although older workers contribute valuable ideas, knowledge, and experience to the workforce, these can often be overshadowed by their potential loss in innovative ideas and physical abilities (Zacher, Kooij, & Beier, 2018). A solution to this cost-benefit analysis may be bridge employment, which is a type of partial retirement taken between fulltime work and full retirement (Beehr, & Bennett, 2014). Bridge employment is similar to short-term work, with the hours being more flexible than part-time employment, but the end goal being full retirement in a relatively short amount of time. Bridge employment allows the workforce to take advantage of older workers’ benefits, while limiting the amount of time their disadvantages would negatively impact their working ability.

One benefit to bridge employment is that it offers older workers the chance to focus on mentoring younger workers, leveraging their increased experience and knowledge to help the workforce (Beehr, & Bennett, 2014). This also allows older workers to leave a tangible legacy behind. This mentorship keeps the older workers connected to the workforce even once they pass into full retirement, as it fosters an active interpersonal connection through the mentee.

Bridge employment also offers security in older workers’ identity. Beehr and Bennett (2014) found that an older worker’s occupation tends to be a source of identity or status, which is often lost during retirement or the later days of working. Bridge employment allows these older workers to ease into retirement by giving them time to find other sources of identity. Without bridge employment, many retired workers find themselves suddenly with no workplace or job to accomplish, causing them to quickly reevaluate their identity or status. Bridge employment, however, gives more time towards this transition, changing it from a rapid or sudden transition to a gradual transition.

Furthermore, bridge employment allows older workers who have not saved enough for retirement to supplement their retirement funds without committing to the hours of full-time employment (Beehr & Bennett, 2014). Increased retirement age is becoming increasingly more common as workers are forced to remain in the workforce because of a lack of money. This pressing need for money often overshadows the potential drawbacks of continuing to work full time as an older work (Beehr & Bennett, 2014). Bridge employment, however, allows older workers to continue making money without committing to the hours of full-time employment.

Bridge employment may be a viable option for encouraging active aging in the workforce by providing older workers the benefit of continued job satisfaction. Older workers’ identity or status is also often helped through bridge employment by providing them a more gradual transition out of the workforce, as opposed to going straight from full employment to full retirement. Bridge employment also benefits younger workers by providing them mentors with knowledge and experience. Although current studies have researched the reasoning behind bridge employment, the outcome of bridge employment is still an area that needs to be better researched.


Beehr, T. A., & Bennett, M.M, 2014. Working After Retirement: Features of Bridge Employment and Research Directions. Work, Aging and Retirement, 1(1), 112-128.

Zacher, H., Koiij, D.T.A.M., & Beier, M.E. (2018). Active aging at work: Contributing factors and implications for organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 47(1), 37-45.