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Job Priorities Shift Among Older Workers, AARP Survey Finds

Personal fulfillment and flexibility are ‘must-haves’ when choosing jobs

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what experienced workers are looking for in their jobs: Being personally fulfilled has risen to the top in importance, according to an AARP Research survey.

The financial benefits of employment continue to be priorities, of course. When asked which characteristics were “must-haves” before they would accept a job offer, respondents cited job stability (88 percent), competitive pay (87 percent), a retirement savings plan (64 percent) and pension benefits (60 percent) among their top choices.

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But all those options were edged out by “work that is meaningful,” which 9 out of 10 (90 percent) respondents selected. The nationwide survey of 2,000 people 40 and older was conducted in September and October 2022.

“During the pandemic, many people took time to reexamine their personal goals and how their job fits into their life,” said Carly Roszkowski, vice president of financial resilience programming at AARP. “Given the high level of burnout that so many older workers experienced during the pandemic, especially those who are caregivers, it should come as no surprise that work-life balance has emerged as not just a priority but a requirement.” 

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The shifts in priorities are especially notable among survey respondents ages 40-49. When asked about their work attitude and behavior shifts during the past three years, this group said they “spent more time on personal goals” (77 percent), “actively explored ways to reduce my stress level at work” (74 percent) or “consciously tried to slow my life down or took time to breathe and relax” (74 percent). The 40-49 age group chose these options at rates at least 10 percentage points higher than those among the respondents 50 and older.

Remote and hybrid work continue to be a preference among midcareer workers. The survey found that 44 percent of respondents work from home at least part of the time. Twenty-three percent of respondents said the amount of time they work remotely has increased since the pandemic began.

Many workers are worried about job security

With the widespread unemployment of the pandemic still close in the rearview mirror and the possibility of a national economic downturn perhaps not far down the road, many older adults are worried about their job security, according to the survey.

Roughly 44 percent of older workers experienced some type of disruption in their employment during the past five years while one-third of those answering the survey said they are concerned they might lose their job this year due to a weak economy.

In general, job seekers can take their pick of positions among the millions of job openings available. The overall unemployment rate for December 2022 dropped to 3.5 percent. The rate among workers 55 and older for that period was just 2.7 percent.

But as large employers including Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart announce layoffs by the thousands, the AARP survey suggests some older workers are considering what an unexpected job loss this year might mean for them.

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