Will You Be Forced Into Retirement?

Often retirement is not a choice but rather something that happens to you. Do you know that the average age for retirement is only 61? 47% of us retire earlier than planned, 43% retire when planned and 6% retire later than planned. So why do nearly half of us end up retiring before we want or need to?

  • Layoffs
  • Declining health including onset of a disability
  • Age discrimination
  • Decision to support aging or ailing family members

Let’s look at each of each these reasons more closely. Layoffs are a fact of life and an all too common occurrence. Companies downsize to save money for many reasons – mergers, reduce expenses and off-shoring of jobs. As we get older our health begins to decline. We get injured more easily, take longer to recover and experience the onset of disease. Some workers find themselves physically unable to perform their job duties and/or end up getting eased out in favor of younger employees. Examples of age discrimination include being steered to take early retirement or when the percentages over age 50 employees as part of a layoff is (shock!) higher than other groups. And lastly, some people end of leaving work to care for ailing or aged family members. Then when they try to re-enter the workplace they find that they’ve been hit with a double whammy – their skills have lapsed and age discrimination has intensified.

This is reality. I’ve seen it play out among friends, family and co-workers.

So at this point we have to wonder what if anything can be done avoid being forced to walk the plank into the seas of early retirement? There may not be any silver bullets but I do have some things to consider.

  1. Establish yourself in your company by making yourself a valued contributor.
    • Never stop learning whether that includes more job training, seminars or formal education which is now available in many ways. One of our favorite tactics was to set up informational interviews. We would identify a department or manager that we were interested in and then meet with them to learn what it would take to work in that area. If we lacked experience or some credential, we could take the time to acquire it and then come back to that manager. This demonstrates to the manager your interest, your ability to achieve goals and your commitment.
    • Be willing to take on additional responsibilities to make yourself more valuable.
    • Mentor junior co-workers
    • Stay positive, support your manager and develop a reputation for being a team player.
  2. Know the early warning signs of when a business may be headed for trouble.
    • Declining revenue growth
    • Key executives depart
    • Bad press and un-refuted rumors
    • A stock price that is falling or has fallen relative to others in the group or despite a good economic back drop
    • A history of prior layoffs
    • Other similar businesses laying off
    • Non-committee language and messaging from executives
    • Failure of new product launches
    • Overdependence on one or two customers who experience their own problems
  3. Have access to an emergency or rainy day fund to help not only with living expenses but also with the expenses of looking for a new job including skills acquisition.

The first point tries to make you so valuable that the company wants to keep you while the second point suggests that you need realize early on that you should start looking elsewhere for employment.

When it comes to health, I urge you to do as much as you can to remain healthy for as long as you can. While no one is 100% able to control the state of their health, the better your health is, the less likely will it be that you have to leave work for health reasons.

When it comes to age discrimination, I don’t suggest getting as much plastic surgery as you can afford and then lie about your age on your resume. Nor do I suggest that you file a law suit. There are more graceful and dignified ways to handle the subtleties of age discrimination.

  • Become a mentor to a more junior co-worker
  • Maintain a high level of professionalism
  • Exceed expectations by delivering outstanding results
  • Look for opportunities to contribute in other areas such as training or projects

We all know that having to deal with aging or ailing family members is very stressful. I know people who have left their jobs and turned their lives upside down to do so. In some cases I wonder if there wasn’t a way to manage the situation without such a major disruption to the caregiver’s job and life. For example, could care giving responsibilities be shared so that the burden and sacrifice doesn’t fall to one person? Is there a way to use a combination of vacation, sabbatical and leave of absence to maintain a connection with and a way back to the job? Is it possible to work part time or remotely? If one does choose to stop working completely, the risk of not being able to return to work is higher.

In summary, here are my lessons learned.

  • Develop a reputation for being a productive team player
  • Establish and maintain a network inside your company and outside too
  • Keep your job skills current
  • It is always preferable to look for a job while you are currently employed!
  • Live a healthy lifestyle
  • Do not to make all or nothing, high risk decisions. Keep your options open!
  • Establish and preserve a rainy day fund

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