Unretirement: Working Beyond Retirement Age

Posted on : Mar 20, 2024

Retirement. It’s something we don’t give a lot of thought to as young people, but as the working years tick by and we accumulate experience in one or a variety of industries, the idea of a time ahead where we don’t have to live in the formulaic, repetitive lifestyle of wake, work, sleep, repeat becomes increasingly enticing.
The idea of accumulating some retirement savings, ticking off those life goals and starting to set some bucket list checklists for our retirement seems sensible. So when you eventually farewell your workmates and slide into your best comfy, elasticated waist pants, will this enticing lifestyle hold the satisfaction you expect?
The Covid worldwide pandemic created an opportunity for those with a lifetime of experience to return to paid employment, with more flexible options made available in an attempt to entice people back into the working world, particularly in the health sector. It’s a win/win situation, the industries which are crying out for more workers get a lifetime of knowledge and experience, while those who return to work get to maintain a lifestyle that retirement perhaps couldn’t offer, while enjoying a balance of shifts and work that suits their wants and needs. Some have chosen to come back part-time or utilise their skills for a fixed term, and enjoy the mental stimulation and companionship of workplace friendships while employers are open to flexibility. Some might even discover a new career path or passion that had been tucked away waiting for the time and energy that retirement affords.
Working past retirement age doesn’t need to be all about remuneration either. Recently, due to a family connection that involved fostering a boy after the Chernobyl disaster, a kind-hearted Ryman Healthcare staff member was inspired to connect their villages with a project of knitting teddies for thousands of displaced Ukranian children. 50 Ryman villages worked together with the aim to have 20,000 teddies posted across the world. This kind of work gives people a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction they might have made a displaced child’s life a little bit better. It’s a sense of purpose and achievement that they would have enjoyed during their paid working years that contributes to their overall well-being.
50% of Kiwis aged 65 - 69 are currently employed, and the New Zealand government recognises the benefits for the economy and health of our nation in the idea of working past the usual age cut-off. The Older Workers Employment Action Plan (OWEAP) encompasses those aged 50 and over who are working or need to work. The OWEAP handbook opens with the statement “The vision of the Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua Strategy (Better Later Life Strategy) is that older New Zealanders lead valued, connected and fulfilling lives. It promotes the importance of meaningful work for older people, in achieving financial security and economic participation.”
It’s not all smooth sailing though; statistics show that older workers can face challenges in finding and staying in paid employment. If they are made redundant or have had to leave paid employment, it can take longer for them to find another job than younger people, and they may have lower incomes when they eventually do. Christchurch resident Lynda Burdekin wasn’t ready to retire completely, so took a part-time job and the opportunity to do something completely different and explore new interests. For Lynda, money also played a part - leading to a more comfortable lifestyle and some funds to travel. She enjoyed meeting a completely new group of people, and working locally meant being more involved in the community, with less travel time too. The benefits also included finding that a lifetime of skills can be put to good use! There are a few drawbacks, Lynda says “people are surprised that you are over 70 and still working. I’m also not as fit and healthy as in the past, which sometimes makes work difficult too”.
In a Retirement Village setting, there are opportunities to continue working in a voluntary capacity. Broadview Lifecare have a special resident who volunteers to help with their beautiful gardens. Before coming to Broadview, gardening was a very important part of her life and ‘fixing up’ their gardens is one of her key priorities, benefiting her health and wellbeing, by continuing to do what she loves. They have many residents who volunteer to help, and are encouraged to continue doing the things that are important to them. The Broadview pets are cared for by the residents too. In the same vein as Broadview, at Settlers the men in blokes shed used their skills to make Ukraine birds to sell, with proceeds going to refugees, the blokes also restored a dingy, with proceeds going to Coastguard. At some Summerset villages there are residents who volunteer to assist others, for example in the care centre – this may include assisting with morning tea, reading to residents or doing different activities with them. Maygrove run a voluntary buddy driver system for their residents and most activities running in the village are run by resident volunteers. The residents social club committee decide what type of events they would like to hold and management support them. These experiences are enriching for both the volunteer and recipient and often allows former careers and skills, such as teaching, to continue to be used and shared.
There are some helpful resources available for those who would like to enjoy the benefits of working in their older years. The website www.betterworkinlaterlife.co.nz is an evidence-based resource supporting older people to engage in the workforce, and for businesses to realise the benefits of Aotearoa’s ageing population. It includes case studies with public and private organisations to determine best practices to address the challenges and opportunities of an ageing workforce, as well as handy resources and advice about working in later life. You’ll find the links useful too, for both employees and employers.
Times have changed. We are healthier and fitter into our older years and the old adage ‘use it or lose it’ has never been more apt - so why not continue to enjoy either paid employment or volunteer work for as long as we can!