Older Employees: Debunking the Myths

When the financial meltdown hit a few years ago, there was lots of talk about how retirees whose retirement funds had been decimated would have to go back to work. Well, a new study by the Families and Work Institute and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work shows that retirees are returning to the workforce—but not for the reasons you might expect.
The study, which analyzed data from the FWI’s National Study of the Changing Workforce (2008), uncovered some surprising statistics about “working retirees”:

Myth: Retirees work only for the money.

Reality: That’s part of the reason, but not the whole story. Although 53 percent of retirees say having a comfortable lifestyle is part of their reason for working, 31 percent say they returned to work because not working is boring. Eighteen percent want to be productive and contribute to society. And fewer than one in five are working because of insufficient retirement income.

Myth: Retirees who go back to work are “coasting” and can’t handle a full workload.

Reality: Most “working retirees” work full time and want to continue working the same or even more hours. Working retirees are passionate about their work: More than half say they don’t plan to leave their current jobs for at least five years, and nearly 10 percent hope to never retire from their current employment.

Myth: Older workers don’t get along with younger co-workers and, especially, younger bosses.

Reality: Although 45 percent of workers age 50 and up have younger bosses, just 10 percent say their bosses aren’t supportive. This isn’t significantly different from the percentage for workers over 50 with older bosses, or workers under 50 with older bosses. In other words, only about 10 percent of all workers, no matter the age, say their bosses are unsupportive.

Myth: Working retirees have to take second-rate jobs.

Reality: In many ways, working retirees are happier with their jobs than people who had never retired. They are more likely to rate their workplace positively for work-life balance, respect and trust, and supportive supervisors.

If you’re considering hiring, you may want to consider retirees as part of your work force. “Traditionally, we have conceived of the life cycle as a ladder where we move from education to employment to retirement. That is not reality today,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute. “The employees of today and tomorrow will cycle in and out of education, employment, and retirement.”

Download the full report at the Families and Work Institute website, and check out the Huffington Post website, where Galinsky goes into some of the findings in more detail.

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

10 Reactions
  1. The key with older workers is to transfer their wealth of experience into their current role.

  2. Great report, Rieva!

    I’m working on my third book “Retirement is a Bankrupt Industrial Age Idea” and the research above confirms everything I’m seeing in the world around us.

    The Industrial Age, which is a very short 175 year snapshot of life in the last 10,000 years, left us with a lot of great toys and a luxurious lifestyle, but we’ve paid dearly as a society for it. The whole bankrupt idea of retirement is one of those casualties.

    We were sold a bill of goods by Bismark who thought up the crazy notion of retirement in 1889 (he set it at 70 when the average age at death in Germany was about 49). The entire idea is only 121 years old – for 10,000 years before that we did just fine without it.

    It is the icon of the worst of what came out of the Industrial Age – “Shut up, sit down, work hard, don’t talk back, make the company successful, be loyal, and go out without making waves. We’ll take the best 45 hours of your week and best 45 years of your life, and if you survive all that, we’ll let you do something significant with your life when you’re done.”

    The X,Y and Z generations know this is bankrupt. But they’re still hearing their mothers voice in their ears telling them that the top three priorities in life are safety, security, and stability – all three which are deadening to the idea that anything significant will happen in your life. Great reward only comes from taking a risk – it doesn’t even have to be a great risk.

    Retirees who bought the lie know by experience it isn’t working. There is a better way. Fortunately the world is actually going back locally. The era of big business is as dead now as the railroad was in 1903 – neither one of them knew it at the time, but it’s over. Long live the local business owner, which is exactly what they will do – without the bankrupt notion of retirement and all it represents hanging over them.

  3. Rieva – I referred to you and this article in my blog tonight – http://chuckb.me/xwUPD. Great post – thanks for doing it.

  4. All true! Boomers don’t like boring, they are eager to learn new skills, and they have a lot of valuable experience. They may not tweet regularly but they do know how to keep a project on schedule. Another little noted benefit of hiring boomers is that they are often “above the fray,” that is, less inclined to play politics or create agita because they’re working for the love the work, not to climb another rung of the ladder. As a corollary to that, they are often starting their own businesses or even their own nonprofits, as I’ve noted in my blog http://ventureneer.com/vblog/boomers-dont-retire-they-take-charge. You’re right: It’s a mistake to sell older workers short. They may be just what you need to get the job done.

  5. Boomers Rock!
    Get The Word Out!
    Love the article.

  6. Thanks Chuck. I personally cannot even conceive of retiring and I know many of my fellow boomers feel the same way.