Forget the gold watch. It’s time to rethink retirement

Like everything else, retirement is experiencing a bit of a transformation these days.

  • Sixty-six percent of baby boomers say they will probably work beyond age 65, according to the 17th annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. Why? Part of it is financial; these older workers will simply need the money. Part of it, though, is a lifestyle choice; they simply want to continue working. They find value and purpose in their work, so why stop? That choice is going to present some interesting challenges for their managers … and for our workforce as a whole.
  • Boomers who decide to put off retirement will likely find more opportunities in the workforce. According to Bloomberg, an increasing number of companies are offering what they call “phased retirement” — the opportunity for older employees to do part-time jobs and work flexible schedules while making the transition into full-time retirement. The private sector isn’t alone in pursuing the phased-retirement path: The federal government and several states are also taking a close look at non-traditional retirement plans.
  • The latest trend involves what Bloomberg calls “boomerang retirees” — that is, older workers who retire, then return to work part time. “More and more companies are establishing formal programs to facilitate this, for reasons that benefit both the employer and the retiree,” writes Christopher Farrell for the New York Times. “Leaving a satisfying job cold-turkey for a life of leisure can be an abrupt jolt to people accustomed to feeling purposeful, earning money and enjoying their colleagues. From the corporate perspective, it is useful to have experienced hands who can train younger people, pass along institutional wisdom and work with fewer strings attached.”

These trends present huge opportunities for employees and employers alike.

For older workers, this new “retirementality” gives them options they didn’t have before. In years past, their only option was to call it quicks, pick up their gold watch, and walk out the door into a uncertain future. Those who want to continue working now have more opportunities than ever to continue doing meaningful work while earning a valuable paycheck in their twilight years.

The benefits for employers might be even more significant.

For years now, we’ve been warning employers that their organizational knowledge is about to walk out the door. The generally accepted data shows that boomers are retiring at a clip of about 10,000 per day — and taking a career’s worth of knowledge and experience with them. Moreover, there aren’t nearly enough Gen Xers to bridge that knowledge gap.

But maybe that’s not as big of a deal as we’re making it out to be.

The research is telling us that boomers want to hang around a little longer. For a lot of organizations, that might be a good thing. We get to hang onto their knowledge and experience for a little longer, and our younger employees get to learn a thing or two from their older, more experienced colleagues. And our boomers? They get to keep collecting a paycheck and making a difference.

Sounds like everybody wins.

It’s time to start rethinking retirement. It doesn’t have to be an end.

It could very well be a new beginning … for everyone involved.


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