Life After Work: Preparing Employees for Retirement

Older employee collaborating with a younger employee on a project at work

This is all good—but something critical is missing: how to help employees plan for life after work. Jann E. Freed, author of Leading with Wisdom, suggests that we “retire the word ‘retirement’ and help employees, especially those close to retirement, to look “beyond the money” and seek meaning in the next phase of their life.”

Baby Boomers Are Reaching Retirement Age

As a leader in your organization, you probably know that over 10,000 people are turning 65 every day for the next couple of decades—many of whom are your employees. “Boomers aren’t going anywhere because they don’t want to and don’t have to,” says contributing writer David K. Williams in Forbes magazine.

In his book, Intrinsic Motivation at Work, Kenneth W. Thomas notes that between 1977 and 2002, “there were huge surges in the number of workers who reported that their work was meaningful, allowed them discretion, and made use of their abilities.” This sea change happened during the working life of Baby Boomers when the economy changed from being manufacturing-centric to service-oriented, requiring an increased need for worker knowledge and judgment.

And while you may recognize the value Boomers bring to your workplace, did you know about a third of Boomers who have worked at least 20 years with a single employer are anxious about their post-work lives?

Provide Purpose Before Retirement

There are many reasons why Boomers stay in the workplace, ranging from financial need to genuinely feeling energized by continuing to contribute something worthwhile at work. Many have devoted a good deal of their lives to their careers and families. This strong work ethic and family responsibilities left little room to pursue a life outside of work and family. Consequently, life after retirement begs the question, “What will I do with myself?”

“If you are what you do and you don’t do it anymore, then who are you?” asks Freed. She goes on to point out that if we don’t help our employees plan for life after retirement, we risk having them live a life without purpose. People without a purpose or a plan for their post-work life are likely to feel anxious about an impending retirement. Management needs to be aware of this because it can impact an employee’s productivity, wellbeing and engagement at work. So what can organizations do to help create a smooth transition in the meantime?

  • Provide volunteer hours. Providing time off during the workday for employees to volunteer in some capacity encourages living a life of purpose. The experiences associated with community service may lead some employees to continue their volunteer work well into retirement. The “feel good” aspect from volunteering is associated with the employer and can result in higher morale.
  • Assign mentors. Encourage interaction between older team members and younger ones. It’s a two-way street. Boomers offer their experience and expertise, while younger employees bring fresh perspectives and creative ideas. This interconnectedness gives all generations a sense of belonging—an essential component of an engaged workforce. It allows everyone to explore new avenues for growth they can pursue in their current—and future—roles.
  • Have flexible work schedules. Perks like this are good for all generations, but can be especially advantageous in keeping Boomers in the workplace—whether it’s full or part-time, on site or telecommuting. Not having a 9 to 5 schedule allows pursuit of activities outside of the office that can refresh and invigorate employees, while also providing a pathway to life after retirement.
  • Allocate interesting projects. Work that stimulates critical thinking and provides an opportunity to learn new skills stimulates intrinsic motivation which can lead to a happier, more productive employee. In addition, new skills can open new doors in post-work life pursuits.
  • Advocate for them. Boomers tend to be adaptable to change, resilient and stable having lived through fast-paced, major technology shifts in business. A key benefit of having them on staff is their interpersonal skills and different perspectives based on experience. Showing you have confidence in them telegraphs the value they bring to the organization and shines a light on their best talents—talents they can leverage in other capacities outside of work.
  • Provide career pathing. Older employees still want some type of career advancement—yes, even in their 60s. In face-to-face meetings, find out what their career desires are. It doesn’t necessarily mean a promotion or higher salary. It could be having the opportunity to plan and facilitate corporate learning courses based on their area of expertise, or working on executive-sponsored initiatives where they have interaction with senior leadership. This proving ground opens doors to new options such as making contacts that could be leveraged later in consulting projects.
  • Present training and networking opportunities. Educational conferences and professional association memberships still resonate with most Boomers. While working for you, they will maximize their newly learned knowledge through innovative and creative ideas for better results. Eventually, what is learned and used can play out for years extending beyond their tenure with you.
  • Promote trust and goodwill. The reciprocity of trust and goodwill creates an environment for team members to excel. It inspires people to be innovative and deliver real progress. “People who feel connected to an organization are likely to stay late at the office to help a colleague on a project unrelated to their work,” says Dan Ariely, Duke University professor and New York Times bestselling author. Nurturing goodwill pays off when team members move on in the community and offer back employee referrals. Boomers who enjoy this interrelatedness may uncover special projects for themselves after retirement that benefits your organization as well.

As Jann Freed observes, “The financial part is important, but it is only part of the puzzle.” Engaging your multi-generational workplace requires different engagement strategies for each. For Boomers, managers need to calibrate where their employees’ passion meets purpose and how that extends into a second act—leaving them more prepared for the transition from work to retirement and happier with their lives after work.

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