Whether you work to live or live to work, the traditional concept of retirement is changing to include continued employment. Millions of older Americans feel that they must continue to work, courtesy of the Great Recession and the twin collapses of investment and home values. It's also clear that millions of boomers value the satisfaction that comes from their workplace contributions and social relationships. When the oldest boomers begin turning 65 next year, don't expect a rush to the workplace exits.
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According to a new study from the Families and Work Institute in New York and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, "Working in Retirement—A 21st Century Phenomenon," many non-financial objectives motivate older people to continue working. The growing number of older workers will help change how employers structure jobs and redefine how we think of careers. "Traditionally, careers were conceptualized as a linear progression through a series of jobs, each with successively more responsibility," the study says. "However, the realities of the workforce and workplaces no longer fit with the notion of straight career 'paths' or 'ladders.'"
"Working retirees represent a new paradigm for thinking about work throughout an individual's lifespan in terms of flexible careers," the study concludes. "Flexible careers recognize that people's values, needs, and aspirations with respect to work change as individuals move through different life stages and allow for multiple exit and re-entry points."
The researchers asked people age 50 and older the reasons for continuing to work in their retirement years. Here are the top 10 reasons they gave:
1. I want to keep earning money to retire more comfortably (53 percent).
2. I would be bored not working (31 percent).
3. I keep working because income from other sources is not enough (18 percent).
4. I want to feel productive, useful, helpful (18 percent) 5. I have a job that is fun, enjoyable (15 percent)
6. I want to interact with people (13 percent)
7. I want to stay physically/mentally active (12 percent)
8. I need health insurance (6 percent)
9. I am pursuing my dream: I have a job doing what I want to (6 percent)
10. I want to learn new things (2 percent)
The study's findings were based on 2008 research and thus do not reflect the full impact of the recession during the past two years. If anything, the volume of economically driven older employees would be even higher than two years ago. At that time, 75 percent of workers age 50 and older expected to have retirement jobs. "Some scholars anticipate that we may be witnessing a new cultural phenomenon related to aging and work—specifically that working in retirement is becoming the 'new normal,'" the study says.
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The kinds of jobs older workers seek, however, are likely to change. Even for older people who need the money, what researchers call "work-life fit" issues become very important. If work isn't satisfying, older employees are likely to seek different jobs or, increasingly, strike out in entrepreneurial ventures where they can work for themselves. A key implication for employers, researchers say, is to develop flexible workplace practices that are better matched with the desires of older employees to have more control over when and where they work.
What many people are seeking, in effect, is a phased retirement. Yet the study found that only 1 in 7 employers had policies permitting a structured wind-down of a person's working career.