The results from two studies conducted by The Rand Corporation are revealing some important trends among older workers and retirees.
Older Americans are the fasting growing segment of a workforce where one in five workers is currently age 55 or older, and this trend is projected to continue into the next decade. According to several reports, more than half of American retirees older than 50 are willing to return to work under the right conditions.
Obviously, all workers are concerned with income, but for older workers, especially those who can live comfortably in retirement, the pay may not be nearly as important as some other aspects of their jobs. The Rand study reveals that older workers view the workplace differently than their younger colleagues and want different things from it.
According to results published by Rand, one of the things older workers value most is “meaningful work.” This really means several things – a job they can do well, a job they believe is useful, a job they find interesting, and one they have some control over. Fortunately, about 65 percent of older men and women report achieving these goals while only 54 percent of prime age men (34-49) consider their job “fulfilling.” Older workers are also far less likely than their prime-age counterparts to say they perform monotonous tasks, and they are slightly more likely to report that they are able to apply their own ideas and devise their own approaches to solving problems in the workplace.
Older workers also want flexible work schedules. They place a high value on being able to balance their time between work and family life, and a sizable portion of them report achieving this goal. Older college-educated workers are more than twice as likely as younger workers to determine their own work schedules, and older male college graduates have the least difficulty arranging time off for personal reasons. Between less-educated workers, the disparity in schedule flexibility between old and young is less noticeable, but older workers are still more likely to achieve some control over when and how long they work.
While the study shows desirable job traits are being achieved by older workers, some report decreased success in another important measure - a supportive work environment. According to a Rand report, “older workers are less likely - by 5 to 6 percentage points - than younger workers to report that their boss is supportive, cooperation with colleagues is good, and conflicts are resolved fairly.” Older workers also perceive fewer opportunities for advancing their careers, but this may be because they have already progressed beyond the level of their younger, more optimistic colleagues.