Retirement living

SO AS I sit here in my mid 30s, I am faced with the prospect of probably another 40 years or more of working life ahead of me. Life expectancy is on the increase, so I guess since I’m going to live to be 120, the prospect of retiring at 80 or even 90 isn’t so bad. I’ll still be left with 30 years of tottering around the garden and muttering incoherently to myself.

So as I sit here in my mid-30s, I am faced with the prospect of probably another 40 years or more of working life ahead of me. Life expectancy is on the increase, so I guess since I’m going to live to be 120, the prospect of retiring at 80 or even 90 isn’t so bad. I’ll still be left with 30 years of tottering around the garden and muttering incoherently to myself.

Peter Costello has come up with the plan: keep people in the workforce longer. The trouble is, of course, we’re not doing a terribly good job of implementing it.

There’s two main stumbling blocks. The first is a general reluctance to keep on keeping on. Recent figures show that more and more of us are retiring in our 50s, even though some early retirees only have enough super tucked away to give them an income of around $10,000 per annum. Even capitalising on the local RSL’s $1 roast dinners, that’s pretty lean living.

The second reason is that a very large proportion of those early retirees are choosing to use the term early retirement as a euphemism for: ‘I’ve been thrown on the workforce scrapheap.’

Herein lies the heart of the problem. We’re all aware of the basic mathematical equation of many baby boomers – not so much superannuation and longer than originally anticipated lifespans. While making people work longer before retiring seems to add up as an option – albeit a fairly unpleasant one for most of us – the plan won’t fly if we don’t make the cultural shift to valuing the input that older Australians have to offer.

Certainly our esteemed Prime Minister is doing his bit by continuing on in his role. I wonder if that’s what originally gave the Federal Treasurer the idea that people need to work longer? However, his example is not being picked up across the board in any significant sort of way.

Knowledge management is a term and a concept that has lived though a few incarnations in the past decade or two, but it’s definitely on the rise again at the moment. One of the primary drivers of this, I suspect, is that there is a perceived sense of urgency of capturing the know-how that the baby boomers have acquired in their lifetime before they buy their cosy little place on the coast. Or, more to the point, before they’re replaced by a twenty-something-year old who’s salary is half as much.

There’s no real easy solution, nor is there any one magic silver bullet to the problem. For example, many older workers may be willing to work for less in return for perhaps more flexible working hours. Many people in their 50s and 60s have achieved what they wanted in their careers, or have given up trying to achieve what they wanted to when the were 30. Similarly, many people own their own home, the children have moved out and have jobs of their own and life expenses have generally decreased from the manic mortgage paying, private schooling days.

While these people may not need to work so desperately as they once did, that doesn’t mean that they do not want to work. You only have to have a look at who is carrying out the majority of charity work in the community – retirees who want to do more than play lawn bowls – to see that there’s a lot of people out there who still want to contribute.

This presents a challenge and an opportunity for the HR community. How do you initially convince the stakeholders in your business of the need for older workers. Then having achieved that, how do you position the prospect of staying on in the workforce as a an equal alternative to working for some sort of charity or community organisation where the prospect of feeling good about what you do is a very real possibility. Let me know how you’re dealing with these problems.

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