Is job security really the top concern?

According to the New York Times, a report by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University finds that college students and recent graduates rank job security above other major life goals.

Well, yes. But when asked about the job attributes that were most important to them, working adults ranked the following above or alongside job security: work/life balance, positive work environment/culture, good compensation, and having interesting work to do. Undergraduate and graduate students gave similar rankings, except that they ranked compensation just below job security. (The exact rankings vary according to your reading of the data; if you look at “essential” job attributes,  the ranking comes out one way; if you  look at “essential or very important” attributes, it rearranges a little, but not much.)

Now, as for life goals, it doesn’t appear that work/life balance, positive work environment, or intesting work were even offered as options. One could argue that the first two aren’t life goals.But the third could be. Given that both students and adults ranked it so high among job attributes, it’s likely they would have ranked it high among life goals as well. Having a job “with impact on causes important to me” was listed among the life goal options, but that’s not the same as having an interesting job.

So, while the New York Times doesn’t exactly misstate what’s in the report, it draws skewed conclusions from it. Yes, when given a limited set of options for life goals, college students and adults ranked job security highest. Yet when it came to job attributes, the quality and substance of the job mattered at least as much to them as job security. Also, what can one draw from the fact that of all the job attributes listed, work/life balance ranks highest?

Of course this report isn’t the final word on what people want  from jobs. Polls have limitations to begin with, and this one may have caveats that I haven’t noticed. But what it says is intriguing.