Retirement—Interrupted, But Work+Life Fit Options Still Exist

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The current financial crisis and poor market performance are forcing some pre-retirees to think twice about upcoming plans for retirement.  They face the prospect of working longer than they had planned and they are not alone.  In April, a survey conducted for AARP, found that 27 percent of workers age 45 and over, and 32 percent of those 55 through 64 said they had pushed back their planned retirement date because of the economic downturn.

With retirement on hold, most believe that their only choice is sit tight in their the same-old job, with the same-old schedule until their portfolios can recover or their savings can make up the difference.   Not necessarily. 

If you can’t retire completely, now or in the foreseeable future, you can find a new work+life “fit” that provides you with the financial benefits of working while giving you more time and energy for other parts of your life.  And you can do it in a way that meets your needs while benefiting your employer in a period where downsizing and cost-savings will become increasingly important. 

Here are the steps to get you started (for more information a Three-Step Work+Life Fit process is outlined in my book Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You):   

1) Understand How Flexibility Helps You Find a Different Work+Life “Fit”: 

You can flexibly adjust how you work, where you work or when you work in order to find a fit between your work and life that benefits you and your employer.  This could involve reducing your schedule, shifting your hours, telecommuting, becoming a consultant, sharing a job, working fewer, longer days per week, etc. 

2) See the Possibilities—Challenge Your Notion of “Retirement,” and of “Work:” 

This is not your parents’ retirement with the gold watch and the golf course.  My experience is that the hardest part of this process for people over 50 years old is to shift their “all or nothing” definition of work.  You must get past the mindset that if you aren’t working Monday-Friday, in a physical space with everyone else, during a set schedule then you aren’t working.   Here are some examples:

• A former partner at a national accounting firm “retired,” but now works as a senior director with a reduced work load.
• A former Chief radiologist for a large teaching hospital now works “as needed” in the radiology department.
• A former section editor of a newspaper now works flexible hours mentoring and editing young newspaper reporters. and
• A former plant foreman shares his job as plant quality control specialist with another senior foreman.

3) Ask Yourself “What Do I Want?” and Analyze Your Realities, Particularly Financial Realities 

For many retirees-interrupted, the need for a full-time salary may preclude a fit that reduces your schedule or allows you to work on a project basis as a consultant.  However, if you need to work full-time, there are still options.  You could still telecommute, shift your hours or work fewer, longer days depending upon the realities of your job. 

4) Redefine Success So that You Feel Good about Your New “Fit” 

Like all of the examples above, finding a new pre-retirement work+life fit might mean having to give up seniority in job title, responsibilities, and salary level.  It’s very important that you sit down and consciously re-set your definition of success.  This means putting a value on the time and flexibility you gain above and beyond what you may have had to give up. 

5) Finally, Think About How Your Work+Life Fit Can Benefit Your Employer in a Difficult Economy

As the economy continues to struggle, employers will look for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency.  How can the pre-retirement work+life fit you want to propose help achieve those goals?  If you reduce your schedule or switch to a consultant-status, there are direct salary and benefit cost savings to your company, not to mention the retention of your knowledge about how to get the job done efficiently. 

If you want to shift your hours, perhaps you could cover clients or customers in other time zones that are currently under-resourced.  If you want to work from home a couple days a week, could you share an office with another telecommuter and save real estate costs? 

The events of this past week may have caused many to radically rethink their retirement plans.  But if you are a retiree-interrupted, it’s not all bad news.  There are still countless work+life fit options that can provide income and flexibility.  Do you have examples of pre-retirees who have used all types of flexibility to find a new work+life fit?