Experts in retirement are all over the map on whether you should work after you retire from your career.
Ernie Zelinski, who wrote one of my favorite retirement books (How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, although his take on retirement finances is, to put it mildly, optimistic), says, in effect, that you retire to have a great time and be free of all the unpleasantness of being tied to a job. He is actually a proponent of retiring in middle age, and not looking back.
Steve Vernon, whose book Live Long and Prosper! is in its second edition and is well worth reading, takes a completely opposite point of view. He believes (and probably rightly so) that most people are not going to be able to afford to totally give up work, and that they will be both more fulfilled and more financially secure if they continue working as long as they can.
This topic is also getting media attention because of proposals to increase the “normal retirement age” for Social Security – that is, the age at which you can start collecting benefits without any reduction. It is already age 66 for people retiring now, and will automatically increase to age 67 for younger people. But in order to shore up Social Security’s funding, and in recognition that people are living longer and healthier than they used to, that age could be increased by a year or two, or (less likely) even to age 70 or above.
From the standpoint of social policy, there are problems with essentially forcing people to delay retirement, because many people are starting to break down physically (and more rarely, mentally) in their sixties. This is most likely to be the case for people who do work that is physically demanding, exposes them to bad weather conditions, requires great dexterity or extended concentration, or that involves a lot of stress. Many careers – some low-paying and some high-paying – simply can’t be pursued late into our sixties and beyond, except by a very few lucky individuals.
When it’s a matter of choosing just for oneself, though, this is not an abstract issue but a very personal one. Would you be capable of continuing your career indefinitely? And would you want to? And do you need to, financially? These are the kinds of questions one asks when one is thinking mostly about when to retire, though.
The idea of working after retirement usually does not involve continuing the same work, or at least not on the same schedule. Some organizations will allow some employees to retire and work on a part-time or consulting basis. They see value in holding onto loyal, long-term employees – it often beats hiring younger people who have to be trained and who then might leave in a year or two.
So if you’re thinking about retiring, but also thinking about staying on in some way, talk to your boss and to the Human Resources people. You might be pleasantly surprised at your options.
But of course, you have lots of other options, too. You could do similar work for another organization, or free-lance (if you aren’t already).
Or you could do some totally different kind of work. This is often the solution of choice for people who decide to stay employed after the end of their regular careers. Some of us actually have something we long wanted to do when we could – maybe the work that was closest to our hearts but that we (or our parents) resisted because it seemed unrealistic, or maybe something we thought we’d be good at but other opportunities presented themselves to us first. Or maybe some dream that emerged later in life. Or maybe even a job that is beneath our abilities, but is attractive for just that reason: we can do it without stress, but it will still give us something useful to do, get us out into the world, and put a bit of money in our pockets.
These last three points (having useful activity, being with others, and earning money) are usually the main reasons people consider getting a new job in retirement. Yet most of us also hesitate. It’s one thing to use your retirement to fulfill a long-established dream. But it’s quite another to commit yourself to showing up reliably at some workplace, or to go through all the hassles of starting up your own business, unless there is some clear benefit.
Probably, most people who work after retirement do it for the money. Even though the money might be modest compared to what you earned in your real career, what you do earn tends to feel like legitimate “mad money” that you can really enjoy spending. Unless of course you need it to pay the bills, and in today’s financial environment, this, too, is increasingly common. But in that case you don’t have much choice.
Where it is a matter of choice, money is a motivator, but it is often the non-financial benefits that drive the final decision. Most of us do feel that we need some purposeful activity in our lives, and if we are still reasonably healthy and alert, we stagnate and may even become rather miserable if we go too long without it. We also enjoy the stimulation of being with others. If we can get paid for it, all the better. And if we can’t, and we don’t really need the money very much, then volunteer work can be an even more satisfying outlet (as well as, usually, one offering more flexibillity).
Of course, even leisure activities can offer a sense of purpose and commitment, and keep us involved with others. So as a retiree you have (or will have) lots of options to ponder.
Should you work in retirement? The answer may already be clear to you. If it isn’t, then maybe you’re not ready, or maybe you don’t have a firm enough grasp of your financial situation yet, or maybe you just haven’t thought enough about what your options really are. Sometimes the answers are easy, but sometimes they’re not. Fortunately, if you’re retired, or will be retired soon, at least you have (or will soon have) the free time to figure it out.
Meanwhile, feel free to email me if you would like information about books or websites or other resources on how to figure out some of these questions (or others that have been raised in this blog).
Chuck Yanikoski is a retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, visit http://www.ChuckYRetirement.com.