Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Case for On-Again, Off-Again Retirement

by Dave Bernard

A funny thing happened on the way to retirement. It turns out that not everyone feels the all-consuming need to escape from the working world. Some people actually enjoy the benefits that come from working with others in a company environment toward a common goal. Staying engaged and involved mentally and physically can help senior citizens realize a more fulfilling and exciting second act. And for some, the working world offers an increasingly attractive option.

One obvious motivation for working longer is to counter the financial hardship brought on by a challenging and unpredictable economy. Sometimes we need to work longer than we hoped in order to save enough money, as witnessed in a study by the National Council on Aging that found pre-retirees, on average, delaying retirement by five years due to the impact of the recent recession.

But the appeal of working beyond retirement age is more than just monetary. The council's United States of Aging Survey report found that of the 1 in 5 seniors still working either full- or part-time, 70 percent ranked enjoyment high on their list of reasons to stay in the workforce.

Here's where it gets interesting. Although only 4 percent of retirees say they want to work full-time in retirement, 36 percent would like to go back and forth between periods of work and leisure.

Having successfully negotiated a career and satisfied the requirements of raising a family, retirement age historically meant exchanging the stresses of working for a peaceful second act filled with relaxing hours and happy pursuits. But while workers of days gone by may have exhausted their body in physically demanding occupations, today's workers have many good years left to pursue new and exciting interests. That said, they do not want to miss out on the leisure time they have heard so much about.

One intriguing possibility is to work a bit, retire a bit, work a bit, and so on. For some, an on-again, off-again retirement can be just the ticket. Enjoy the engagement and stimulation provided within the job for a period of time, perhaps a few years. Interact with co-workers, complete projects, and learn new technologies. All the while you remain removed from the sometimes crippling stress of a working situation that you must stay with for better or worse due to financial and other requirements. You know it is for a limited amount of time. Then, when you are ready for the retirement side of the coin, you exit the job and chill a bit.

I find this combination attractive not just for the on-again, off-again aspect, but also for the opportunity to learn new things. Each new company has different processes, technologies, challenges, and opportunities. You meet new people and have new experiences that keep your mind engaged and stimulated.

There are risks when you decide to leave a job, especially as you get older. You may not immediately find something when you are ready to return to the workforce. But if you have prepared for retirement and are not financially in jeopardy, the lack of an immediate position only means an extension of the retirement part of your on-again, off-again strategy.

And with 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 each day, smart hiring companies will have to take notice of this valuable pool of labor. With skills, experience, and a willingness to work, along with the fact that seniors do not actually cost more, older workers can hope to find their employment prospects improving. According to the book Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order, doubling your percentage of 55-year-old workers raises your business's total compensation costs by a mere 1 percent.

An on-again, off-again retirement may not be for everyone, but it can provide a happy medium for some. It offers the opportunity to pursue one passion for a period of time and then head down the path toward another after a bit of time spent recharging in between. Each of us has to do what is right for our specific situation, but it is good to know there are some interesting options out there.


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