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Insights on Age and Work – The End of Retirement As We Know It

Insights on Age and Work – The End of Retirement As We Know It

  • 9 Jun, 2017
  • Geoff Pearman
  • Encore Careers, Older Workers, Retirement,

The TV series What Next is asking the question “Would you choose to live to 130 if you could?”

Today we are living on average 20 years longer than we did 50 years ago. This is causing us to rethink the traditional 20-40-10 paradigm of life. That is, around 20 years of education and training, 40 years of work, family, getting ahead and the 10 years of the so called “golden dream”– the reward for the hard years of work – “retirement”. A period often called the golden years and still portrayed that way by advertisers selling travel, retirement villages or reverse mortgages and by superannuation providers. A time when you can reward yourself.

When Von Bismark first introduced the aged pension in 1889. William the First, in a ground-breaking letter to the German Parliament wrote: “. . .those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.” The choice of 70 as the age of eligibility was a shrewd, and maybe a little cynical, cost-saving measure: it closely matched the average German life expectancy at the time. If the same principle was applied today we would not be entitled to a pension until aged into our mid 80’s.

Increased longevity means it is no longer 10 years of the “golden years”. Reach 60 and you may be only 2/3rds of the way through with 30 years ahead of you. Live to 130 and 65 is only half way. It makes you think. The linear 20-40-10++ paradigm is no longer relevant. We are doing this stage of our lives differently to our parents. In fact in New Zealand 45% of people aged 65-69 are still working. This will only increase with people staying on at work through choice and from financial necessity. It is also in my view a mistake to call this the “Longevity Bonus” as some do. Rather what we have is a new reality, the “longevity revolution”.

When running groups with mature aged employees in both Australia and New Zealand I find the vast majority of people still believe we have a retirement age. A point at which we are expected to retire and they tell me it is 65 rising to 67. When I point out that to have a retirement age is illegal and that what changes at 65 is we have a new income stream called a pension. This may mean for some that they can change their work arrangements, maybe exit or reduce their hours. People relax.“So I don’t have to retire?” The word retirement has so many negative connotations; “put out to pasture”, “past it”, “no longer relevant”, “slowing down”, “old….” In fact I encourage people to drop the word retirement from their vocabulary and to find a different language to talk about this phase in their lives.

Chris Farrell an economics journalist suggests “we are at the early stages of a long, difficult transition toward a different vision of the elder years, less a model of disengagement from work and neighbourhood to one of continuing engagement in work and community.”

This also has implications for the way we think about careers. Reach 50 and you may be working, through choice or from necessity, for another 20 – 25 years. That is frightening for many people. “What more of the same”, “will my body hold out”.

I am now recommending to employers that they provide access to career rethinking services for their employees as they reach this life stage. I am also recommending to people over 50 that they invest in a session or two with a career practitioner and explore two questions, what contribution they want to be making over the next stage of their life and how do they want to be structuring work. This may mean a change in direction, it may mean more flexible hours, for an increasing number it may mean going into business for the first time or re-training.

Over the past five weeks I have had the privilege to work with a large retailer running a programme “Life and Work After 50”. Asking the question “How do you see the next stage in your life” has seen people resolve to talk with their manager about more flexible hours, actively plan for a transition and for others exploring retraining (in one case at the age of 65) or looking at the possibility of setting up a business and been linked to a business start up mentor.

My prediction is that in 20 years time we will look back and conclude that “retirement” was a lovely 20th century idea. Yes we will still exit from paid work, but do we need to use the retirement word or will we instead be using the REBALANCE word. Rebalancing the place of paid work in our lives or maybe “REDIRECTING” our energies.

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