How Problem-solving Reinforces Workers' Competence

In job design Opens in new window framework, problem-solving refers to the degree to which a job requires unique ideas or solutions and reflects the more active cognitive processing requirements of a job (Jackson, Wall, Martin, & Davids, 1993).

Problem-solving involves generating unique or innovative ideas or solutions, diagnosing and solving nonroutine problems, and preventing or recovering from errors.

JobsOpens in new window that require a great deal of problem-solving give employees an opportunity to demonstrate and reinforce their competence on the job. As such, it is conceptually related to the creativity demands of work and is a natural extension to the information demands of a job (Shalley, Gilson, & Bum, 2000).

According to Morgeson and Humphrey, problem-solving is conceptually related to the creativity demands of a job. In a meta-analysis on the relationship between age and dimensions of job performance, Ng and Feldman (2008) found that age was not significantly related to creativity.

However, because age is associated with declines in recall and working memory (Park, 2000), and because these functions are critical to problem-solving, older workers in their mid and late career may be less effective in certain types of problem-solving than younger workers.

Jobs Opens in new window that require active cognitive processing (fluid intelligence) could lead to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction for older workers in their mid and late career.

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In contrast, older workers who have accumulated sufficient knowledge in their previous jobs may use their experiences and knowledge (crystallized intelligence) as guide to solve problems encountered in their jobs.

However, if problem solving imposes high demands of information processing Opens in new window, then this type of job will be more challenging for older workers than their counterparts who are in early career stages.

Older workers’ success in these types of jobs is likely to depend on the extent to which their experience can compensate for the need for information processing.

In other words, if older workers in their mid and late careers could quickly locate several prominent solutions based on their experience, then the need to go through all possible solutions becomes less relevant.