Senior Conundrum: To Work or Not to Work

  By Frank Burtnett  |    Monday November 27, 2023

Category: Columns, Education


EMInfo Reader:  I am engaging greater numbers of senior clients who are struggling with the question of whether it is time for them to retire or not? What issues should they be examining at this stage of the life?


Dr. Burtnett: One only needs to examine the reports of the Bureau of

Labor Statistics generated in the early portion of this millennium to learn that more seniors are working now than any other time in U.S. history. 

Increased longevity due to better healthcare and improved personal habits (i.e., smoking cessation, more exercise, improved nutrition, etc.) are cited as contributing to those statistics. Many have not managed there financial circumstances in a way that allows them to leave their employment. The coronavirus pandemic stirred a new sense of the meaning of economic security and left many hanging on to their jobs. Finally, a larger employee population likes what they do and simply wants to engage in their careers for a longer period time.

Often seniors don’t fully understand that full retirement is not the only option when there turns grey and they slow down a step. In my book Career Challenges: Straight Talk about Achieving Success in the Technology-Driven, Post-Covid World of Work, I refer to the winding down, adjustment and exit phase of the career development process that includes a number of options seniors might follow on their path to full retirement.


Those alternatives include:

Continued Full-Time Career Engagement – Yes, there are many for whom remaining in the workforce is the best option. They believe their minds and bodies will tell them when the exit is to occur.
Modified Career Definition – This option has the employee taking on a redefined job description where their role and responsibilities are less demanding. This option can be even more effective if combined with the next one---modified working characteristics.
Modified Work Requirements – One of the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic was that more jobs than thought do not need to be performed at the place of employment and flexible schedules can produce the same level of performance and production. Working from home and a shorter or more flexible schedule is an option that might be welcomed by many seniors.
Career Makeover and Entrepreneurism – For the worker desiring to head off in a completely different direction. It’s not an easy option to pursue, given that new knowledge and skill-set requirements will likely require new study or training. Education and business creation costs may also limit movement in this direction.
Temporary Employment- The contract or temporary employment option is one where the amount of work is dictated by the formal contract or agreement the individual has established with an employer or temporary placement firm. A positive feature of this option is the individual is allowed to determine the type of work, location, frequency of employment and other elements.
Full Retirement - The full retirement option is the one in which the lure of a complete exit from the workplace is too great to pass up. It is a time when the older adult is ready to make a clean break which working hard all those years now allows them to do.  The weekly golf game or bridge game and many other recreational pursuits are looking better and better. Able seniors should never apologize or feel guilty for exiting a life of productive work or that fact that they feel it is time to put their career behind them. Rather, they should look at comfortable retirement as their compensation for a successful career.

Dr. Rich Feller is a retired professor of Counseling and Career Development and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Colorado State University and a former President of the National Career Development Association. Rich believes that we “should retire into something, not from something.” a provocative suggestion that he offered for the second edition of my book, Career Challenges: Straight Talk about Achieving Success in the Technology Driven, Post-Covid World of Work. His message is one I believe all working individuals should consider.

Retirement is a transitional time---not one of absolute stoppage. It may feel to some like removing a heavy backpack, but it doesn’t mean one is discarding it. Individuals at this place should pause and ponder for a time and then refill the backpack with new things and proceed in a new or different direction. 

The adjustments that lie ahead  at this time will likely include one or more of the options identified herein and will likely result in a unique blueprint that is consistent with the individual’s personal goals and aspirations. The final career stages and entry into retirement don’t have to be the end of anything. It is a time for an adventurous new beginning. Who knows? That is where you will find The Career Mechanic.

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