The Changing Face of Retirement

by Stephanie Overton


Working 20 to 30 years and retiring to a vacation-like lifestyle may be a thing of the past for a growing number of Americans. Some older workers view retirement as just another chapter in their professional life. For many reasons, the obvious being financial need, they are opting to begin new careers, even going back to school to learn new or different skills. “Some older workers are beginning second careers because they finally have the financial means to do so,” says Sean Robson, assistant professor of psychology at Radford University. “Work is meaningful, so they are entering new careers on a semi-retirement basis, often as consultants in their field, which gives them more control of their time.”

Some employers have long thought older workers to be out of touch with the changing marketplace and fear that they may not get a return on their investment if they hire them. They will need to re-evaluate these perceptions in order to fill the estimated 4.6 million jobs that will become vacant when 26 million baby boomers become eligible for retirement in 2008. Some companies already see the value in hiring older workers and are recruiting them for the experience, dependability, and stability that they bring to the workplace. Employers will certainly have a large pool from which to select; according to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers aged 55 and older are the fastest growing segment of the workforce and will total 8.5 million by 2010. Some of these workers will choose to continue working while others may have to be recruited, so employers will need to understand and appeal to what is important to the 55 and older workforce.

Older workers are concerned about success in the workplace, but their definition of success may be more intrinsic. Robson says older workers use different criteria to determine if they are “aging well in the workplace.” As their goals change and become more age-related they tend to focus on five dimensions:

* Adaptability - learning new tasks.
* Positive relationships with coworkers.
* Occupational or career growth.
* Personal security - safety on the job and managing the workload without stress.
* Continued focus on achievement of personal goals.

Career growth tends to be the least important since they have typically accomplished this goal earlier in their life. They tend to be more focused on their ability to produce.

Older people who choose to continue working can expect opportunities to use their years of professional know-how. Robson recommends that they remain competitive by updating their skills. Depending on the field, this could mean anything from staying abreast of industry trends to earning another degree. Older workers would also benefit from learning to market themselves. With the right tools in hand -professional maturity, years of experience, and a great work ethic to name a few - workers 55 and older are well equipped to compete in the job market and may find themselves in great demand.