By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published December 7, 2017
“Indeed, the differences between work and retirement are increasingly blurred. For many people, retirement is no longer the end of their working life. It is a time to blend work with a nice mix of leisure activities to create the work/life balance they have always wanted.”
Ernie J. Zelinski, author
I have observed a new type of retiree emerging. I call this retiree the “New Era retirement pioneer” or “NERP” for short. A NERP is a senior who views retirement more as an option than a requirement. The NERP enjoys working and feeling the sense of accomplishment from doing something important and worthwhile.
Many NERPs are financially secure, but they place a higher value on being active and involved. They enjoy the thrill and rewards of remaining “on the job” where they have friends, colleagues, clients or patients. Work, for a NERP, is part of life. It’s who they are, what they do. They routinely integrate their work into a new multifaceted lifestyle, a style that assimilates work, leisure, religion, social, recreation and all other activities into a new model for retirement.
Retirement in retrospect
Traditional retirement is a fairly recent invention. The workers in the 1800s and early 1900s didn’t retire—they worked as long as they were physically able. There were very few retirement and pension plans at the time. If an older worker retired, it was because he or she had created a personal retirement nest egg.
So how did the notion of retirement come about? The Industrial Revolution helped to create division of labor, factories and assembly lines, and as a result, many non-skilled, blue collar jobs were created. These jobs,vital to the growth of our manufacturing economy, helped to build this great country. The development of large factories then gave rise to unionization and a new approach to labor and management relations. It was in this environment that companies created pension and retirement programs to motivate, incentivize and maintain a productive workforce.
In the United States, the Social Security Act that became law in August 1935 provided a foundation for government-funded retirement planning. For the first time, the average rank and file worker was assured of retirement income from company pensions and Social Security.
The acceptance of retirement as a required expectation was hastened by the economic boom following World War II, when millions of returning GIs entered the workforce. Many companies competed for workers by offering attractive employee benefit programs, including pensions, insurance, paid vacations, sick leave and medical coverage. The 1950s and 1960s were the golden years of employee relations.
Thus, retirement for the masses became a reality and ultimately a career-ending goal. Retirement programs became the accepted norm, and people worked 30 or 40 years and retired with the financial foundation of company pensions and Social Security benefits.
Now consider the world of today. The parents of the current baby boomer generation experienced the Great Depression and fought in World War II or worked in factories that produced war material. They understood and appreciated the importance of getting and keeping a good job. Many persevered in jobs and careers for the benefit of their families rather than their own personal satisfaction. People routinely stayed with a company for their entire working careers.
A new retirement model
The baby boomers saw what their parents had endured and developed a different attitude about work. Many boomers were motivated to create more expansive and financially rewarding careers. College enrollment increased dramatically as many boomers became the first in their families to attend college. Others sought out careers in the professions of law, medicine, science, education and technology.
The boomers became the most educated generation ever and translated their education into the creation of the greatest economic boom in the history of the world. A far lesser number followed in their parents’ footsteps and worked at a job to simply make a living and eventually retire.
The age of the retiring baby boomer, the NERP, is now at hand. For the most part, they view work, career and retirement in a more positive way. If a boomer has worked in a job that they truly enjoy, it is quite possible they will question whether or not they should consider a traditional retirement. After all, why give up something that provides enjoyment, satisfaction and continued financial benefits?
The new retirement model that is emerging is driven by the attitudes and feelings of boomers who enjoy their work and career and don’t necessarily see a need for total retirement. In addition, the newest retirement generation is living longer—they are healthier and more active. The average 65-year-old retiree can expect to live 15 to 20 years in retirement. As a result, some boomers will outlive their financial resources and will need to return to the workforce at some point.
The new retirement model will be viewed by many NERPs more as a lifestyle decision than a required expectation. Some boomers will retire much like their parents and grandparents. But a significant number of people will retire a day at a time or continue to work until they can no longer add value, or the work is no longer enjoyable, or embark on an exciting, new career option.
The future of retirement
The decision about when or whether to retire or what to do in retirement will become a personal, flexible option influenced by a person’s attitudes and feelings and their financial and personal situation. I believe that it’s quite possible that traditional retirement will eventually fade away and future generations will wonder what this retirement thing was all about.
An important reality is at play in the new retirement model. A person blessed with having a job that he or she really enjoys doesn’t have to worry about working long hours, or when to be at work, or coping with the political issues in a typical work environment. They don’t view their job as a necessary burden. They don’t anxiously count down the hours anticipating the weekend when they can begin to do things that they really enjoy. They don’t daydream about retirement and count the years and months and days until retirement.
For the NERP, work is an integral part of their being. They could no more remove work from their lives than they could remove a vital organ from their bodies.
Traditional retirement may also disappear or be altered forever by the attitudes of the younger generations. Generations X, Y (millennials) and Z are far more concerned about lifestyle than prior generations and are more likely to find ways to integrate work into a personalized lifestyle. In addition, the practice of staying with one company for an entire career is not viewed as a good career practice. Many younger people will not work for a company long enough to qualify for full retirement benefits. As a result, some will continue to work beyond retirement age as a financial necessity.
A new retirement model suggests a synergistic harmony between all the things that comprise a person’s life: the relationship with a spouse, family, community, church, social or leisure activities and work itself. In this model, one integrated continuum of activity defines life and lifestyle. People can’t retire from work because it is an integral part of their beings.
If you have retired and feel that something is missing in your life, perhaps you need to consider “un-retiring” and going back to work. You just might be a New Era retirement pioneer … a NERP.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.