Older workers choosing work over retirement

By Greg Fleming

Older workers must keep up with technology. Photo / Thinkstock
Older workers must keep up with technology. Photo / Thinkstock

Are you ready for your encore?

Many older workers are choosing work over retirement and often it's not for the money.

A Waikato University study focused on encore careers - meaningful work, paid or unpaid in the second half of life - has found older people who work are happier and healthier than those who don't. Although some survey participants did mention income as the reason for taking an encore career, most saw it as a way of staying socially connected, giving something back to society and a chance to finally follow their passions.

Annette Smith is one. She worked for 30 years in primary education as a teacher and assistant principal. In the early 90s she began writing teacher resource books and instructional material for a publishing company.

A few years later the publishing company wanted her to write for them full time.

"It was an offer I didn't hesitate in accepting. I'd been in teaching for many years and I knew it was time to make a change. I knew I had the skills and felt confident I could do the job so in that sense the new career was no great leap," says Annette who was then in her mid 50s.

The job enabled her to work from home - "It's almost like the publishing house is next door. I love technology and embrace it and I think that's important for older people to realise - it makes your working life so much easier. I'm on-line all the time, talking to the office in Australia."

Fourteen years into her encore career, retirement doesn't tempt her one bit - "No not at all, I still have lots to offer the children and teachers of the world. I think passing on knowledge is really important and having a job you believe in and are passionate about also helps you physically and mentally."

But the Waikato University survey found not all older workers experienced such a smooth transition. Some participants struggled to find meaningful work, found employment agencies unhelpful and success often depended on individual initiative.

"Many managers had negative stereotypes of older workers believing that they were unable to change and lacked the appropriate job-seeking skills such as how to write a CV and how to present at interviews," says research fellow Dr Margaret Richardson of the Waikato Management School.

A negative self-perception on the part of some - including concerns knowledge and skills may be out of date in modern workplaces - was also a factor. The survey found self-motivation and openness to change was vital if encore workers were to succeed. Some participants struggled with job interviews as they came from a time when selling yourself at an interview was unheard of.

"I hardly had to apply for a job [when I was young]," said one survey participant. "[In those days], you'd just go along and see the boss and he'd say, 'oh yeah, we are taking on recruits this year'. And they just took you on."

Dr Richardson said skills also needed to be kept up to date - not just technical know-how, but also knowledge about current workplace practices and performance expectations.

"But there is also a need for employers and recruitment agencies to recognise that negative stereotypes about older workers are myths that need to be discarded if managers are to make the most of an ageing workforce."

She said managers could consider ways of accommodating older workers' skills and experience through more flexible job structures and workloads, and being open to training and mentoring older workers to keep their experience and skills up-to-date.

There is also a social benefit - a happy, healthy, involved older population cuts down on health costs.

- Herald on Sunday

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