Next gen – retirement. Choose or lose?

Rush hour in London underground

Photo credit – Anna Dziubinska via

A few years before I turned forty, an associate said to me he was planning his retirement.  “Retirement?” I thought to myself, “That’s the last thing on my mind”.

More than a decade later, I still think it’s a way off, but sometimes it seems a lot closer. With downsizings in workplaces it can arrive earlier than you expect …

A friend, working in a global firm was recently made redundant. It caught her unawares. She had not expected to be looking for work so soon. In her early 50s, she is in need of more working time, but is faced with an employment dilemma.

Despite EEO and the espoused importance of diversity in workplaces, it is challenging for mature-age workers to find employment. Being made redundant at any age, is a shock to the system. Some older workers who arrive at that point, choose to retire.

Some plan to retire and work to a predestined date. Others, phase out of employment, reducing their workload gradually over time. There are others still, who retain a consultancy/contracting arrangement with their workplaces – working flexibly in negotiated arrangements.

A recent HBR article looked at some new approaches to help people navigate their late career stages. They provide four guiding principles:

  • prepare to go off-script
  • find your own retirement metaphor
  • create a new deal, and
  • make a difference.

Prepare to go off script
Organisational factors can affect retirement decisions, including mergers, change in management/strategy and restructurings. Personal factors can influence decisions too like an epiphany for health or other personal reasons, or personal reactions to workplace change.

The lesson here is that few people will have control over when and how careers will end. So being ready for that, and being ready to adapt is important. It requires a flexible mindset.

Find your own retirement metaphor
As people move towards retirement, their perspective evolves. As the process unfolds, they may go through different phases. Once again, flexibility is important. The researchers suggest:

… individuals who take a flexible approach and are willing to shift from one metaphor to another are able to craft a retirement that feels right for them … ” (Vough, Bataille, Sargent & Lee, p.106).

Metaphors can be many and varied and reflect different stages of acceptance and the context that retirement creates. Some metaphors cited include loss, renaissance, detox, liberation, downshifting, staying the course, milestone and transformation.

It is suggested that there are many paths to retirement. The metaphor chosen needs to resonate with the individual, their perspective on work and life, as well as the opportunities and activities you want to engage in.

Create a new deal
Sometimes people are able to negotiate new ways of working with their employer. This enables an organisation to retain the knowledge of the employee and the individual to arrange a way of “phasing out” of work through flexible arrangements.  This is not possible in all organisations or all roles. With all these possibilities, they can only be explored if they are discussed. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Make a difference
Many people use retirement to undertake philanthropic endeavours. With people living longer lives in good health, they want to continue to use their knowledge, skills and abilities. They often do this in ways to make a difference in communities that benefit from their experience, leadership, teamwork and management skills.

Does any of this apply to you?
If you are years off retirement, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. But the principles here are all pointing to one over-arching concept: flexibility. If you are thinking this is not for you, perhaps that is the very place to start.

Imagine you are faced with an unexpected change in your employment. How would you deal with that? Would you adapt and change as needed? Would you be able to embrace a flexible mindset? Could you re-calibrate your expectations?

Vough, Heather C., Bataille, Christine D., Sargent, Leisa and Dean Lee, Mary. 2016 Managing Yourself Next Gen Retirement.Harvard Business Review. June 2016, pp.104-107.

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