The stereotype of retirement where people lounge on a beach somewhere for the rest of their days, is retired.
Older workers aren't always counting down the days until retirement — many do work, just in different capacities, studies show. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates in the next eight years, the groups of workers 65 to 74 years old and 75 and up will have the fastest rates of growth among all ages. For some people, that's because they simply want to work, while for others, it may be for financial stability.
Older workers are valuable employees for companies, which are now finding new ways to incorporate them. Many people 50 and older are thinking about what the next phase of their lives and careers will look like, and companies are responding by creating programs to help them prepare for such major changes, said Penelope Brackett, practice development manager at human resources firm RiseSmart. Other ways companies are responding to the aging workforce is by shifting employees into various roles and levels (for example, the average age of a chief executive officer is in her 50s) and having retirees come back for consulting and training programs, or through volunteer work, she said.
A few companies have been recognized by Columbia University's Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School of Public Health for such considerations. The 2017 Age Smart Employer award winners included utilities company National Grid, nonprofit health care provider Urban Health Plan and accounting firm PKF O'Connor Davies, where older and younger employees work together, in some cases for mentorships.
National Grid told MarketWatch that older workers' knowledge and experience is immeasurable, not just in training younger workers but also accomplishing tasks in times of crisis. "We understand they may not want to work in the field climbing electrical poles but they may want to do a different job or make a different contribution of their time remaining at National Grid," Keith Hutchison, senior vice president of U.S. human resources and chief diversity officer at National Grid, told MarketWatch.
People who work during their retirement years may change the way they work, such as switching to part-time. About 73% of people who said they plan to work "postretirement" will do so part-time, according to a 2015 AARP survey, and almost half (44%) are considering a new field.
But why? Aside from needing to fund retirement, it could be to maintain a sense of purpose. Many workers see their jobs as part of their identities, and to so suddenly shift from working full time to not having to work at all could be a shock to their lifestyles. Working is often linked to social interactions, which people tend to value more in their older age. About 42.6 million adults ages 45 and older suffer from chronic loneliness, which can be more dangerous than obesity.
For those on the verge of retirement, Brackett suggests taking a minute to consider your next steps post-career.
"Look at what work does for you," she said. "Work gives a sense of purpose, it's money, structure, social contact. You need to look at those needs. How will they be met?" For some people, that may be retirement, and for others that may be "redirection," or a change in the way you work.
She also suggests no matter what choice is made, a financial plan is developed and that people also consider their health and how to improve it through diet and exercise. "This can be a very empowering time of life," she said.