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High on Priority List for Older Workers: Meaningful Employment and Flexibility

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Older workers more than ever are rethinking their priorities and want jobs that are meaningful, not just a means to a paycheck, according to a recent AARP survey.

AARP Research conducted a study of adults ages 40 years and over working full time, part time, unemployed but looking for work, retired and working, and retired and looking for work. According to the survey, which is conducted every five years, work–life balance remains a key concern of older workers.

Some 90% of those surveyed said a job must offer meaningful work before they'll accept a position, noting that work is "an important part of who I am." This shift in priority has become far more common since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Capitalizing on the slower pace and spending more time at home during the pandemic over the last three years has led workers to reevaluate their personal goals and retirement plans, as well as reprioritize how work fits into their lives.

Among those surveyed, the 40–49 age group were more inclined to do so, including spending more time on personal goals (77%), taking time to relax (74%), exploring ways to help reduce work stress levels (74%), reprioritizing how a job fit into their lives (72%), removing unsupportive people from their lives (71%), spending more time on career goals (70%), seeking out a new personal support system (54%), and relocating or considering relocation to be closer to family (50%). 

This review of work–life balance isn't surprising given that a high percentage of the older workforce is burned out. Over half of those ages 40–49 (53%) are caregivers of a parent, friend, partner or spouse, in-law, or another adult relative. Many of them acknowledged having to work remotely, change work hours, reduce hours, use accrued sick or vacation leave, take temporary leave, use paid caregiving leave, or quit their job altogether to provide care. 

Older workers still prefer flexibility via hybrid and remote work arrangements, with 44% working remotely.  In fact, one of the top reasons for working independently was the flexibility to decide when and how much they work. The autonomy of being one's own boss was also high on the list. Workers ages 40–49 (32%) were more likely than those ages 50-plus (26%) to have an outside gig, with both groups most likely to earn money through contract or freelance work (14%). 

But job stability and good pay still overrule flexibility and remote work. Before accepting a job, older workers continue to emphasize job stability (88%), competitive pay (87%), retirement savings (64%), full-time work (62%), pension benefits (60%), and the option to phase into retirement (60%). Other important job requirements include workplace-wellness benefits such as paid leave, health insurance, caregiving leave, flexibility to care for someone, and maternity or paternity leave. 

Meanwhile, many older workers worry about their job security, with 44% noting they experienced a workforce disruption in the past five years and about a third fear losing their job in the next year due to a weak economy. Finding another job is a concern for many, who are wary about discrimination based on age and on being unemployed. 

Older workers feel that their job is an important part of their identity, but some feel they are treated differently at work because of their age. Based on what they have seen or experienced, over three in five (64%) believe workers face age discrimination in today's workplace and few see the situation improving. And, two in five (41%) report experiencing some type of ageism at work in the past three years.

Much like employees of all ages, older workers agree that respect, inclusion, acceptance, and a place that values different perspectives and opinions are key attributes for joining an organization, in addition to a friendly work environment. 

In the end, older workers want to continue to learn new skills and grow professionally in their careers and use their skills and talents. A high percentage noted they believe that they have much to accomplish in their careers.

In fact, 61% of older workers surveyed have updated their resumes, applied for jobs, posted resumes, gone on job interviews, created LinkedIn profiles, or met with recruiters. As the skilled labor shortage continues, respondents who took some type of training (54%) cited keeping current skills up-to-date and developing new ones as the top reasons.  

As today's workforce continues to evolve, understanding older workers wants and needs can benefit workers and employers alike. The number of older workers is projected to grow substantially over the next decade, which offers an opportunity to build a more age-diverse and inclusive workforce.

Methodology

The Value of Experience survey, the AARP multicultural work and jobs study, is conducted every five years. The sample included 2,000 respondents ages 40-plus in the labor force, those working full-time, part-time, and those who are not working but lookingfor work. Oversamples were also collected among African American/Black workers (n=1,079), Hispanic/Latino workers (n=1,103), Asian American/Pacific Islander workers (n=693), and LGBTQ workers (n=644). The survey was fielded online from September 15 to October 12, 2022 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

For more information about this survey, please contact Lona Choi-Allum at lallum@aarp.org. For media inquiries, contact External Relations at media@aarp.org.

Suggested citation:

Choi-Allum, Lona. Understanding a Changing Older Workforce: An Examination of Workers Ages 40-Plus. Washington, DC: AARP Research, January 2023.  https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00554.001

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