In this week’s episode of 60 Minutes Australia Charles Wooley considered the future of retirement from his perspective as a nearly 70 year old journalist.
During the episode he spoke with Peter Costello, who coined the phrase “Work Till You Drop” in 1993 when he was the Australian Treasurer, and he still stands by the view that this will be necessary for many Australians.
Because television has to entice people to view their programs with emotive statements the viewers had all their buttons pushed:
- “Retirement is just a dream…a word from another age.”
- “Work till you drop”
- “Retirement as a concept has been retired”
- “Grey nomads are an endangered species”
On social media the outcry has been loud. Resentment has boiled, with viewers complaining that working late in life is not feasible for those who have physically demanding jobs. Others have pointed out that they have worked all their lives and feel that they are entitled to stop working and start enjoying the relaxing retirement lifestyle they have always believed they would have.
Let’s examine this issue from the perspective of numbers. When the aged pension was introduced in Australia it was available at 65 years old, but the average life expectancy was then 55. At that time there were 5 taxpayers for every person eligible for the pension, but Australia now has just over 2 taxpayers for every person over pension age.
So let’s assume that it won’t take too long before the government can no longer afford to assist us in our retirement.
The average superannuation balance of Australians is $155,000, far from enough savings to fund a long and comfortable retired life. So let’s also recognise that there is a proportion of our community who have worked hard, saved and still will be unable to fund a decent lifestyle in their retirement.
Earning something to live on, or to protect dwindling savings, will become a big issue for many people.
The employment of older workers becomes important at this point. Many mature age workers find themselves unemployed and virtually unemployable at a time when they thought they’d still be earning and saving for their retirement. Their financial concerns are compounded by understandable resentment and negativity about the future.
Others who have always worked and retired voluntarily may experience difficulty finding work, facing the obstacle of being considered an older worker and perhaps being overlooked, despite their many skills, much experience and great work ethic.
The identity of many adults rests strongly on what they do for a living and when that job is no longer part of their lives they feel a great loss of identity, importance and a sense of who they are in the world.
Are Enjoyment, Purpose and Identity the key to living a successful life, whether in work or retirement?
Enjoyment: Two people who were interviewed, a 72 year old fitness instructor and a businessman/inventor who was well into his 90s, spoke of loving the work they were doing.
Purpose: John Williamson, the country singer, said “You have got to have something to get you out of bed in the morning and if you haven’t got that you’re buggered.”
Identity: “Relevance deprivation” was discussed in the 60 minutes video, with the period of adjustment to retirement sometimes causing serious psychological issues for some.
If everyone could find enjoyment, purpose and identity within their career they may not feel as resentful that they need to keep working longer than they anticipated. In fact they may choose to work well past the traditional retirement age.
The people who were happily working beyond retirement years were all doing things they loved doing and didn’t consider it work.
Every person responds differently to the life experience of work, and some are never fortunate enough to find work that truly suits them and that they can enjoy. Their attitude towards retirement is therefore going to be a longing for the pleasure that they imagine they will have in retirement.
Even those who have enjoyed their career usually get to the point where they sincerely look forward to finishing their working life so they can enjoy the freedom to pursue their interests and do the things they haven’t had time to do.
Another constant among the people who enjoyed their work was purpose, bringing pleasure, better health or physical assistance to others.
Not everyone finds purpose in their work, and they are often the people who are disconnected, dissatisfied and in need of career assistance. Perhaps that is something that we, as a society, should be looking at carefully so that people do feel that their work matters and makes a contribution.
Of course many retirees find purpose by being involved in the many voluntary organisations that contribute so much to our society. Many others find their purpose through involvement with their grandchildren, with over 900,000 children cared for by grandparents as a normal part of their week.
“What do you do?” is the first question many people ask when they first meet someone. “I’m retired” speaks of life now, not of the team player, the influencer, the valued colleague that you have enjoyed being. Developing and identifying a new identity can take some time and adjusting to a different way of living can be uncomfortable.
There is another issue that really wasn’t considered in this 60 minutes program. Challenge is the issue that most concerns me about my retirement. I get bored and discontent if I’m not challenged in some way, learning to do new things, being exposed to new ideas, meeting my own self-imposed goals.
Some people probably think I’m crazy to still be thinking about this at a time when I “should” be thinking about retiring. But that isn’t who I am. Perhaps this is about identity, but I like the idea of living life a bit differently and creating a business and retirement lifestyle that combines enjoyment, purpose, identity and challenge but also contributes to the financial needs of living. That’s just my personal solution to the issue.
What’s your retirement plan?
Have your plans been adapted to meet your financial needs, or your desire for enjoyment, purpose, identity and challenge? Do you plan on living a traditional retirement? Are you going to work till you drop? Or are you planning on living an untraditional retirement lifestyle, no longer working as you did in the past but merging some form of income producing work and the lifestyle you have chosen to live.
We’d love to hear your 2017 version of a retirement plan.