“I’m helping people uncover possibilities for being productive in work until they want to retire at 85!”
He smiled. Gene is in his mid-sixties and lost his administrative job for a successful land developer when the economy sunk the business several years ago.
“Barbara,” he said, “I’m pretty much wasting away in front of the TV and doing social stuff. I would give anything short of bagging groceries to have work for 2-3 days a week.”
Gene isn’t depressed or unhappy with his life. But he could be happier if he were involved in work that utilized his talents.
If you are unemployed, already retired or looking ahead, the journey to discover work you want to do can confuse and overwhelm even the smartest, creative and most successful individual.
We are in the midst of a cultural shift – creating new paths for work and careers in this age of longevity – where many of us will have an addition 25-30 years of potential productive living ahead.
The good news is the world of work is opening up many possibilities for a late-in-life work-groove that fits the lifestyle you want to create.
This post is for you, Gene.
Whether from a financial necessity or a desire to stay involved, working in your 60s, 70s and 80s is more than making a comeback – it’s a growing trend.
Studies show that many older workers today plan on staying on the job beyond the traditional retirement age. A Merrill Lynch-Age Wave study found that 72 percent of pre-retirees over age 50 say their ideal retirement will include paid employment in some shape or form.
This paid employment will not magically appear.
One of the biggest challenges for a person who leaves a successful career is how to extend his or her working years under a career arc for the future. We’re not good at this.
We didn’t anticipate longevity, good health, energy, the slowing rate of return on investments and our own high desire. But the first generation shouting how young we feel at 70 is also trying to figure out life out all over again within new parameters:
- Individuals struggle to find their place in the world of work – “I want to do something but I don’t know what” – at the same time the culture is rampant with age discrimination and stereotypes.
- Those who chose traditional retirement discover they now want to work wake up to no network, support or enthusiatic tribe to join.
- Pre-retirees, often in the best position to take steps for a future of work, find themselves consumed in the practicalities of their dynamic and consuming careers. They’ll choose traditional retirement because it’s quick and easy.
Too many of us opt for well-worn paths of volunteering and hop off the career paths when what we need to do is start acting like we’re 23 again.
About the Money, Honey
Does Gene need the money? I don’t know.
I do know volunteering and giving away our talents is veiled in respect and dignity while asking to be paid for work after retirement seems less admirable.
Many can seem self-righteous as they cling to traditional retirement as a golden era of life with a “see I’ve made it” aura.
You’ve heard me say before that individuals I talk to about the idea of working after a traditional retirement age often reply that they might be interested but feel the need to include, “Now, I don’t need the money.”
Sometimes they repeat it two and three times.
Here’s what I’d like to say back:
So, okay. You don’t need the money. Would you like the money? Could you use the money to give to others? What if you’d be able get running water to a family, replace the fridge at your local food pantry, fix the falling down buildings in Haiti or buy some books for a school in Guatemala? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
After those questions another side of my brain alerts me to the fact I might be missing out on a financial fix-it that could help grow a diminished portfolio. Then I’ll want to say:
Why don’t you need the money? Did you discover ROI magic? Do my people need to talk to your people? Haven’t you yet been devastated by some unforeseen act of nature that wrecked your nest egg? (In my case, Hurricane Ivan.) Didn’t your company dump the retiree pensions yet? (Delta Air Lines, my husband’s employer did.) Are you choosing budget travel when you’d really like that high-end trip to Mongolia?
In an interview before Christmas, Carl a successful senior executive who retired shared he was looking for a board position. “Paid or unpaid?” I asked.
“Oh definitely paid,” he quickly replied.
Does Carl need that money to fund his lifestyle? Not from the looks of that curved staircase pictured in his Christmas card.
“I want that money. I definitely want that money,” he said. “I want that money for my kids.”
Carl has 3 daughters and 7 gorgeous grand-kids who sat on that staircase for the holiday picture. I appreciate his honesty.
Let’s summarize: You’ve worked for money all your life so why should age dictate a change?
Ten Ideas for Paid Work Versus Traditional Retirement
If passion is a driver for happiness and you want to devote 60 hours a week doing work you love, go for it.
But passion and love isn’t necessary. Involved in work you “like” and enjoy is good enough to support wellbeing and happiness in your third act.
So love the work or like the work, you’ll be fine. Just don’t choose work you hate.
An individual’s desires for flexibility, income and new learning, may mean a work life is a fun gig, new job or career, or a portfolio of entrepreneurial endeavors.
Each idea below is a springboard to endless possibilities to consider as you fit work into a new life of freedom.
1. Phased Retirement
This is when employers let workers shift to working part-time — by either working a shorter day or shaving a day or two off the work week. This helps the company transition the role, slows the brain drain of Baby Boomers often with 20, 30 or 40 years of experience, and allows the organization to continue to benefit from the talent and/or benefit from providing mentorship to younger workers in the company.
Today, 8 percent of U.S. employers offer a formal phased retirement program, and 10 percent offer an informal program, according to a 2015 report by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Mercy Health’s Work-to-Retire program is an example. Kathy Harris, vice president of human resources at Mercy Health Systems. “Our Work-to-Retire program has helped us retain some very good people.”
A new research study indicates 11 to 14 percent of men and 6 to 9 percent of women were able to phase their retirement at their current employer, depending on whether they were early boomers or from previous generations. Most workers needed to leave their current employer in order to find a bridge to retirement.
Business owners can create their own version of phased retirement. But there’s a chance you can do this too even if you aren’t a CEO or President. Many individuals successfully negotiating a sabbatical within a company without a formal sabbatical program.
Similarly, pre-retirees can initiate and propose the possibility of phased retirement. Investigate how this may work for you, highlight benefits for the organization and begin the conversation.
Phased Retirement is gaining traction and may be one of your best first options to consider.
2. Part-Time Job
Nothing new here in terms of definition. This means you promise a certain amount of hours to an employer.
Men and women in my small downtown, obvious members of AARP, smile as the ring up my Blood Orange fruit-infused olive oil or are upbeat as they show me the new men’s shirts from Peter Millar.
In past lives, these individuals managed an entire division for companies, earned fancy titles, and traveled the world on the corporate jet. Now they don’t and that’s fine with them.
Leaving a dynamic career making big money with high status doesn’t mean you can’t find a part-time job that makes you well – happy. (Happier even, if you care to remember those long tedious meetings or a wacko boss.)
Most of us want our time back after demanding careers and work now can be simple as working 15- 20 hours a week in a small entrepreneurial company or retail store.
As for bagging groceries? Lou is 65 with a springy step and a big smile who works 20 hours a week at Publix. After 40 years as a successful sales consultant, he’s happy not traveling but “I need to get out of the house. It makes my wife happy.” Lou spends the rest of his free time at work on his mystery novel.
(Think Uber fits here as a part-time job? Nope. That fits in idea #5 – The Gig. )
This is a work-for-yourself model. If you don’t like the cutesy term Boomerpreneur (not sure I do), then think senior entrepreneur.
Perfect for people in their 60s who either can’t get hired and for people who want an endeavor for income, creativity and challenge.
Age discrimination runs rampant in the job market so this choice solves that problem.
What will your business be? The Etsy marketplace is booming. (I love Etsy!) Be a tutor, invest in a small franchise, bake extraordinary cakes or detail cars – the list is endless.
4. Careering Inside Your Industry
This model is a dotted line to creating a revenue stream and challenging exciting work based on what you know and gained in your career. Consultants, coaches, facilitators, university teachers, writers and bloggers translate experience and knowledge into paid work.
If you’re an expert with a track record for success in sales, home inspections, team building, strategic visioning, contract management, you can build an online presence and create a brand.
Like Carl, and others executives, many seek to parlay a successful track record to a paid board position.
5. Pre-Retirement Sabbatical
Before you make the irrevocable decision to retire (and then try to figure out what to do), take a career break. Discovery of your best paid work path requires exploration. You can super-charge your time in transition and gain solid understanding prior to leaving your present career.
In this way you fast-forward into your life and eliminate a stage of anxiousness that many feel after they left a career and try to answer, “What’s next?”
Negotiate purposeful time away to try out geographies, lifestyles, internships and cull interests. You can negotiate one sabbatical or perhaps several within the 5-8 years before retirement.
7. The Gig
Work as an independent contractor, temp or freelancer means you can pick or choose the time, project you want to take.
Join the gig economy and you work independently through a company. Defined by Wired as “nontraditional jobs taken by independent contractors, temps, or freelancers,”this shared, or “gig” economy, includes businesses such TaskRabbit, Uber and Airbnb that allow people to work independently through a company – not as employees, but as contractors.
8. Switch to a New Full-Time Job
Some 6 percent of people say they retired from one job and later found another full-time job, likely out of financial necessity. However, in some cases, retirees return to work because they miss the action and sense of purpose they experienced in the workplace.
Thirty-one percent of workers approaching retirement say they want to continue to work full-time after retiring from their current position, but weigh that statistic against the number of people who are working at jobs that are sucking their energy and spirit.
Work you love isn’t work. Someone said this. Check out the Over50 Job Board and the resources at the end of this post for inspiration and information.
9. Turn Local Volunteering into Paid Work
I loved learning how John Culberson from Custer S.D. made $6,000 doing what he loves – volunteering! (AARP Bulletin/ January-February 2016)
Culberson has been a volunteer in emergency service and will go on 250 calls this year. Where he works as an EMT began paying its volunteers on Jan. 1, 2015. This is an opportunity we’ll likely see more of.
Moving from a volunteer position to paid work can be an easy transition, says Lynn Berger, career counselor. If you’ve shown you’re a good fit and have the skills the organization needs, the rest is just details. “You eliminate many pieces of uncertainty because you already know the people and routine of the organization.”
There may be something to learn about how to turn a volunteer role into a paid position but worth the effort to find out. Volunteer experience can be monetized.
“Unretirement,” where a worker leaves employment for a period of two or more years but then returns to work can work as a transition to new endeavors.
Researchers from Boston College and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics studied the patterns of how older workers left the workplace from 1992 to 2010. They examined data on about 20,000 Americans age 50 and found 13 percent of both men and women “unretired” during the period studied.
Choose this way of thinking and you can truly bask in freedom as well as take your time to find ideal work. But two years may be on the outside for the time you should allow. When we’re out of the work environment for long periods, technology moves on and your strong networks disperse.
But when you consider taking a couple of years to plan carefully for say, a new career of 20 or 30 years, it can be a great option.
10. The Paid Global Volunteer
Some volunteer programs actually pay their volunteers either with stipends, travel expenses or other incentives. While there are not many of these out there, they do exist.
- UN Volunteers is a high profile volunteer experience. UN Volunteers enjoy expenses covered – airfare, insurance, room and board – and receive a modest stipend for their work. Most volunteers are expected to commit for at least one year; most projects are at least 6 months long.
- International Executive Service Corps is similar to UN Volunteers in that is maintains a database of potential volunteers, and send them for specific-term projects in developing countries.
- The Peace Corps50+ offers opportunities are fully-sponsored and include airfare, health insurance and room and board in addition to a stipend. The Peace Corps also offers funding upon return to the US to assist with resettling in the United States.
Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life by Chris Farrell. Farrell is senior economics contributor for Marketplace, American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio programs. He is economics commentator for Minnesota Public Radio. An award winning journalist, Chris is a regular contributor to Next Avenue, Money.com, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Second-Act Careers: 50+ ways to profit from your passions during semi-retirement by Nancy Collamer. Collamer writes a weekly column about careers and volunteering for the new PBS website, NextAvenue.org (which appears on Forbes.com as well).
Great Jobs for Everyone 50: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills by Kerry Hannon. Hannon is a columnist and contributor to The New York Times, a contributing editor for Forbes and columnist for PBS Next Avenue. She is AARP’s Jobs expert and writes a monthly column for AARP.