Working in retirement is not only increasingly necessary, it’s also good for you

Older female workers

Retirement just isn’t what it used to be. When retirement was invented, people didn’t survive much beyond retirement age, so it was understandable that most wanted to spend what little healthy time they had left on leisure activities and relaxing. This was the old-style, cliff-edge or “true” retirement in the purest definition of the term – an abrupt cessation of all work-related activities and the commencement of the pension, which in those days typically went a lot further than today. 

The term ‘retirement’ doesn’t really have a place in modern society, largely because most early ‘retirees’ continue to work in some form or another. They may not continue to work full-time 9-to-5, but flexible, occasional, part-time work, even if only for a few hours a week, is still work. And volunteering is also a sort of work, even if it is unpaid.

The slow evolution from true, old-style retirement to the modern ‘non-retirement’ retirement is largely driven by three very important factors. Firstly, the typical 65 year-old today (both men and women) can expect to live another 10 years-plus in good health before time and ageing finally catches up. And for many, the 10 years cannot be fully occupied by golf, cruises, playing bridge, watching TV or looking after the grandkids! Secondly, pensions aren’t what they were and many more people are forced to supplement their retirement income by continuing to work. As people live longer and the proportion of the population over the age of 65 grows it becomes increasingly difficult for younger people in full-time work to pay enough taxes to maintain State pension levels. The decimation of many pension funds by the recent recession hasn’t helped either. And thirdly, people yearn for purpose, structure and self-fulfilment in their lives which, besides the occasional serious hobbyist, is most often provided by voluntary or paid work, or a combination of the two.

In a recent Trading Times survey of a thousand over-50 candidates who registered with the flexible job-matching service, the response to the question, “What is your primary motivation for seeking flexible paid work opportunities?” was supportive of this trend:

  • 43% said they enjoyed working and wanted to keep their hand in;
  • 26% said they enjoyed keeping active and being connected;
  • 15% said they felt obliged to give something back, pass on their experience or be a mentor;
  • And only 5% said their primary motivation was to earn money.

Being able to work longer is a good thing. Older workers also have one major advantage over younger workers. They have more freedom. Freedom to choose the type of work they do, when they do it, how long they do it for, and the ability to stop and/or change when they want to. More over-60s today are studying, starting new businesses, becoming self-employed and exploring how their skills may be transferred to new careers than ever before.

By taking the time to select the right role, one can continue to have all the benefits associated with working and very little of the drawbacks. Working just half a day a week can help address all of the four key elements of a successful retirement: developing new social networks; being creative and challenging the mind; ongoing learning and personal development; and having fun. Working also helps avoid the anxiety, depression and isolation that are so frequently the pitfalls for those entering retirement while looking back on the career they’re so desperate to leave without looking forward in anticipation to what their next 10 years might bring.


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