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Boomer views about the workplace change with age

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- The days of a six-figure income and pricey client lunches are behind her, but former marketing and branding consultant Doniece Sandoval has no regrets.

Sandoval, 40, says her new job at a nonprofit group focused on family violence prevention is a much better fit.

''This is an incredibly progressive organization, and I like their values,'' she said. ''They are very pro-family, very generous and those things matter to me -- not so much because I need them, but because I think when an organization walks its talk through its benefits, that's a good sign.''

As the 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 approach the second and third decades of their careers, their attitudes about work are changing. Salary is still important, but they also want to work in environments that value their experiences, offer training and show flexibility about work hours.

''There's more of an interest in having a balance between work and life,'' said Linda Fisher, research director at the AARP. ''Part of that is because there are increasing numbers of boomers who have not only children to take care of, but who also have issues with aging parents who need care.''

That doesn't mean more employers are accommodating them. In a difficult economy plagued by layoffs and a swooning stock market, employers have fewer incentives to cater to their work force. Boomers, who may have tuition bills and other family expenses to pay, may have to put up with less than perfect work conditions in return for a steady paycheck.

Still, job expectations apparently are changing.

A recent AARP study found that, among those 45 and older, there are motivations other than salary and health insurance for staying in a job and in the work force.

Eighty-four percent say they would work even if they had no financial reason to do so, while 68 percent say that the desire to be productive compels them to work, and 89 percent say their job ''makes a contribution to society or helps people.''

Gender is another factor in boomer's expectations, says Joan Williams, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law. Boomer men, she says, are exhausted after years of working 50-plus hour work weeks to secure well-paying, prestigious jobs. Boomer women also tend to have jobs, but those jobs generally were less demanding and left more time to take care of children.

''The men often find themselves trapped in high-level, high-hours jobs and wish they could peel back but can't, because the average father still earns 70 percent of family income,'' Williams said.

''The mothers often want to be increasing their work force participation because their kids are grown, but job options for them are pretty disappointing because many of them are no longer on the professional track and their choices are limited,'' she said.

Boomer women who don't have children and have instead focused on careers, however, ''are much more likely to drop out of the rat race. They say, 'This isn't that important to me,' and they don't have all that pressure that associates masculinity with success the way men do.''

For Sandoval, the decision to leave the high-powered world of technology companies for work she felt made more of a difference was a gradual one.

Sandoval, who doesn't have children, said she moved toward a job in the non-profit world by volunteering. She thought such activity would show prospective employers her interest was genuine.

''Ten years ago, I wanted money, and I wanted the ability to sort of make a name for myself. Personal recognition was incredibly important to me,'' she recalls. ''Now my goal isn't money as much, and personal recognition isn't as important.''

As retirement age approaches, however, some boomers are finding that money seems more important than youthful idealism.

''Twenty to 30 years ago, I thought money didn't matter. I was in that generation that really thought love would conquer all. We just needed to simplify and get back to the earth,'' said Rosemary Forrest, 51, of Augusta, Ga.

''In some ways I have incorporated many of those values into the life I have, but I've come to the realization that it is good to have a retirement plan and a car that runs,'' she said.

Still, Forrest, a public relations manager, says a job has to be judged on more than the merits of a paycheck.

''We spend an awful lot of time at work,'' she said. ''You have to like what you do. I want satisfying work but it has to be financially responsible. If you're already in your 50s, you've got to have work that helps you put a little away.''



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