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Time for us to retire retirement

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Retirement, an invention of the 20th century, is disappearing faster than a buttered bullet fired from a shotgun. Is it time we retire retirement asks Gary Martin, CEO, Australian Institute of Management WA.

It should be no surprise that the spark has left this primitive idea, which is based on the notion that in your 60s or even your late 50s you replace the day-to-day grind called work with a life of joy and leisure funded by a lucrative superannuation payout, investments or savings strung together during your working life.

If you are in that age bracket, you have probably been flooded with advice on the various retirement choices on offer. 

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But there is one possibility many will avoid telling you about: the option of not-retiring.

We have been completely brainwashed by those with conflicting interests into thinking we should retire when we reach the 60s.

Yet the seemingly compelling arguments to retire put forward by those who stand to gain from you giving up work obscure the very reasons for us to rethink retirement.

For starters, retiring between the age of 55 and 65 is underpinned by an old-school assumption that is as broken as a New Year’s resolution in February: that you are, well, old.  

That might have been the case way back in the dark ages.

But with life expectancy increasing, many of us will now live into their 80s and beyond to render the 60s the new 50s, and the 50s the new 40s.    

There was also the belief that when people reached the age of 60, they lost the capability to work. 

Of course, with age come limitations to completing the most physically demanding of jobs. But with increasing life expectancy and better health many are able to make a valuable contribution for longer to workplaces of various types.

Let’s just say that, for the most part, the physical reasons for retiring have now been retired.  

We also need to consider whose agenda is best served by retirement.

More often than not giving up work is not in a prospective retiree’s interest. It does not make sense – if we are able-bodied and our mind is willing – to give up something we thoroughly enjoy and look forward to each day.

The question remains: is the only reason we retire when we hit our 60s because tradition says we should? 

Taking that line of argument one step further, there is also the fact the old rules of retirement were built around a notion of freedom. Retirement was seen as freeing us from a lifetime of drudgery – called work – so we could spend time enjoying ourselves.  

But we should learn from millennials and the next generation who – as examples – no longer let work stand in the way of their travel plans. Many of them embrace more flexible career choices that allow them to experience fulfillment throughout their lives – and not just at the end of it. 

Rather than retiring, perhaps a better proposition is to take breaks along the way at different stages of our lives, a mini-retirement here and there instead of one mega-break at the end of our careers.

Besides, if so many of us take the plunge and retire, why does an increasing number decide after just a few years to unretire and re-enter the workforce?

Many retirees unretire because they found that giving up work was not all it was cracked up to be, despite the new-found freedom.

And the parameters around the financial reasons that have always underpinned the ability for – and timing of – retirement have changed.

Improved health and associated increased life expectancies mean that instead of enjoying only a decade or so of retirement once we hit our 60s, most of us can now look forward to enjoying life for another 20 or 30 years or more.

As wonderful as that may be, it comes with significantly increased financial requirements that need to be addressed pre-retirement.

While the perfect antidote to ageing is yet to be found, we know that having some structure in the day, stimulation and being social all play a key role in keeping us young. Our working life regularly provides all three.

Ageist-type behaviours were once a major deterrent to staying in the workforce though some of those multigenerational barriers are gradually coming down. Today, many younger workers appreciate the benefits of working with and learning from older colleagues.

And even if you are ready to stop work in your current profession, there is no longer any valid reason for downing tools altogether – there are many suitable part-time roles available and on offer to older workers across a range of industries.

The bottom line is that the old workforce model – and therefore the retirement tradition – is broken.

There will be those around us who seek to trick us into retirement.

Don’t be easily fooled.

Instead, become a trendsetter and form part of the growing movement of unofficial semi-retirees who balance the golf course, crosswords, trips away and long lunches with bosses, team meetings, presentations and spreadsheets.

About the author

Gary Martin

Emeritus Professor Gary Martin is an expert in workplace matters, including leadership and management, and human resources. He studies the art and science of ‘work’ providing commentary on ‘what is trending’ in workplaces across the corporate, government and not-for-profit sectors.

A former academic, Gary is chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia (AIM WA), and a highly regarded columnist, Board Director and keynote speaker.

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