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Flexibility, autonomy just as important as pay for some job seekers, researcher says

Generational, gender differences emerge in workforce since pandemic

Ohio marks In-Demand Jobs Week through May 6. What will it take to fill the more than 200 occupations that make up those in-demand jobs? Faculty at The Ohio State University are taking a closer look at the issue.

From a job seeker’s perspective, a variety of factors beyond pay can make a prospective position appealing, according to research presented by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).  

In a May 4 virtual presentation, “More Than a Wage,” Margaret Jodlowski, an assistant professor of agricultural and economic policy, Margaret Jodlowskidiscussed employment trends that have emerged since the COVID-19  pandemic began in 2020. “More Than a Wage” was part of the CFAES spring Economic Outlook and Policy Series.

While salary is often the main attribute that job seekers consider, other amenities such as flexible work hours and the possibility of remote work have taken on increasing value, Jodlowski said.

“We talk a lot about attracting workers to a job, but once a worker is in a job, what ends up actually mattering more for retention is these other amenities,” she said. “These other amenities are what keep people around. So once you’ve got them in the door, what gets them to stay is often these non-wage amenities.”

Autonomy is an amenity that workers rate highly in surveys, Jodlowski said.

“The ability to work autonomously and direct yourself in your day-to-day work habits, versus being given a simple list of tasks to do by your boss – basically more independence versus less independence” is a sought-after amenity, she said. “Having more independence on the job was significantly associated with an increase in wage, and indeed was associated with a 3.8% wage increase.”

Independence can take the form of working solo, rather than on group projects, Jodlowski said.

“Working alone (rather than) working on a team was associated with an 8.4% wage increase,” she said. “One of the biggest equivalent wages that we’ve seen in terms of job conditions actually comes from this working alone versus working in a group.”

Even when assigned to teams, workers tend to prefer being evaluated on their individual merits, Jodlowski said.

“They don’t like feeling like you’re all (grouped) together, and if one person does poorly, it’s the team that does poorly,” she said. “Being able to be evaluated individually is something that workers really value, more so than just working alone.”

Employer-provided health benefits and paid sick leave are among the amenities cited as favorable most often by workers, Jodlowski said. She cited research indicating that Ohio is one of the leading states in employer-provided health benefits for farm workers.

“Ohio does seem to be doing much better in terms of this amenity provided to its farm workers than the national average,” she said.  

Child care is also an important amenity cited by workers, especially women, Jodlowski said.

“There’s an employment shock or employment gap in child care right now that has important ramifications down the supply chain,” she said.

Research also shows gender differences in who decides to change jobs so that they can work remotely, Jodlowski said.

“The differences between why you’re changing your job are pretty much the same across men and women,” she said. “The only one that is significantly different is in terms of wanting a remote job. Women are much more likely to want that.”

Generational differences have also emerged in the workforce since 2020, with the start of the pandemic coinciding with the oldest members of Generation Z graduating from college and starting careers, Jodlowski said.

“As they enter the labor market, we are seeing a different approach and also a generational approach to how they view employment, and that’s having important contributors to quit rates,” she said. “The disruption of the pandemic really reduced the cost of job switching. So much was changing that it feels less costly now to just change your job entirely because of all the disruptions happening in the broader world.”

The final presentation in the spring Economic Outlook and Policy Series will be held June 1 at noon and will explore how trends in the energy market will affect inflation over the next six to 12 months.

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