Growing numbers of seniors bring enthusiasm, talent and energy to the workplace

While not many companies provide a gold watch, let alone a pension, workers beyond the normal retirement age still have talents to offer.

In my recent article, Maintaining your workforce in the face of retirements?, I discussed the need to replace retiring Baby Boomers with trained, experienced workers. One area not covered was the small but growing segment of the population wanting to continue working past “normal” retirement age. Chris Farrell in a post on Next Avenue cites that “Growing numbers of Americans that age have no plans to retire.”

Farrell is a senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace and author of the new book, Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He reports that, more and more Americans 75 and older (are working) and glad of it. “Why not stop working?” {when} “You have money. You’re 81-years-old.” The most common response is “It’s what I enjoy doing.”

Farrell notes that “plenty of … septuagenarians (70s) and octogenarians (80s) feel the same way. Although people working at age 75 and over are a distinct minority— comprising less than one percent of the total labor force — roughly 11 percent of American men 75 and older are still at it and 5 percent of women that age are. By contrast, in 1992, only about 7 percent of 75+ men and 3 percent of 75+ women worked.” This may sound like a small percentage of the total workforce, but the experience and work ethic they bring to the workplace is vital.

The average age of retirement in America has risen over the past two decades, to 64 for men and 62 for women, calculates Alicia Munnell, head of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Farrell suggests that, “While the labor force participation rate for men 75 and up is currently about double that of the rate for women, the gap is expected to shrink. It is worthy to note that Boomer and Gen X women are well educated and more attached to their jobs than previous generations.

Farrell cites numerous over-65-and-still-working examples, such as, “I love working” , “I can’t imagine not being employed”, “it keeps me young”, “ I have the energy” and “I have the creative urge”. Health issues and other unplanned events can interrupt continuity. Having a team or partner to cover the gaps in time and responsibilities can serve to mitigate the severity of the situation.

Farrell notes a newspaper publisher who, at 77, works at a pace that would leave many younger workers gasping. However, working with younger people and helping them grow personally and professionally provides a sense of purpose.

In researching his book, Unretirement, Farrell states, “I’ve come to believe that the ranks of people 75+ earning a paycheck will expand in coming decades, especially among better educated employees and business owners. It isn’t inconceivable that the average retirement age when the youngest boomers reach their 70s in the early 2030s could approach 70.”

A Pew Research report, “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality”, notes that, “Public opinion in the aggregate may decree that the average person becomes old at age 68, but you won’t get too far trying to convince people that age that the threshold applies to them. Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35 percent say they feel old.”

Farrell concludes that, “The ones who are able to keep working well into their 70s, I think, will find themselves leading richer lives, both financially and psychically”.

Would you like workers who want to contribute, have a sense of purpose and are experienced? Look no further than folks who do not want to retire full time. Businesses that reach out to this population to fill employee gaps will not be disappointed. Michigan State University Extension educators working with the MSU Product Center assist business clients maximizing labor effectiveness.

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