The pandemic-driven disruptions have not only reshaped economies and societies but have also unveiled an unexpected trend in the workforce.

A recent analysis by Phoenix Group’s longevity think tank, Phoenix Insights, sheds light on how declining job satisfaction was a critical factor driving individuals in their 50s out of the workforce, leading to a substantial rise in economic inactivity.

The research, which scrutinised annual job satisfaction data from 2009/10 to 2020/21, underscores a remarkable correlation between job satisfaction and the decision of people in their 50s to exit the workforce.

Prior to the pandemic, economic inactivity within the 50-64 age group had reached a record low of 25.2 percent, marking a steady decline since the mid-1990s.

However, this positive trajectory took an unexpected turn during the pandemic, with economic inactivity surging to a peak of 27.7 percent in the months between May and July 2022.

Even in the post-pandemic labour market, this figure has remained considerably higher than the pre-pandemic era.

What was happening pre-pandemic?

What is more striking is the revelation that the seeds of this exodus were sown long before the pandemic hit. Those who opted to exit the workforce during their 50s exhibited declining job satisfaction in the years leading up to their departure, a phenomenon noted well before they even reached the state pension age. On the flip side, individuals who chose to continue working experienced a modest uptick in their job satisfaction levels during the same period.

A comprehensive survey conducted by Phoenix Insights involved 1,000 participants aged 50 and above, supplemented by in-depth focus group discussions. The findings underscored a prevailing sentiment among the respondents.

A staggering 59 percent of individuals in their 50s expressed the belief that older employees were being side-lined by employers. This perception likely contributed to their growing discontent. Furthermore, within the same age group, 34 percent of those who remained employed reported feeling unfulfilled by their jobs, painting a grim picture of job satisfaction among this demographic.

Early career years

The sentiments shared during the focus group discussions provided valuable context. Participants conveyed a sense of fondness for their earlier career years, highlighting a stark contrast to the progressively negative experiences they encountered in the workplace as they aged.

Remarkably, the study also found a glimmer of hope for the situation. Individuals in their early 50s displayed a higher receptiveness to improvements in workplace practices and policy interventions aimed at encouraging their continued participation in the workforce. This suggests that by addressing issues of job satisfaction and the perceived neglect of older employees, employers and policymakers could potentially reverse this unsettling trend.

The findings of this study shed light on a multifaceted issue that has broader implications for society, economy, and labour dynamics. As the workforce continues to evolve after the pandemic, understanding and addressing the factors driving this exodus is crucial to building a resilient and inclusive work environment for all age groups.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.