By Richard Eisenberg
For many years, Georgia McManus of Waynesville, N.C., enjoyed her job writing commercial insurance policies for Stanberry Insurance and serving customers. Soon after she retired in 2018, McManus got antsy. “I didn’t want to quit working completely,” she says. “I needed something to do.”
At age 70, McManus is now loving doing similar work — but from home and part time as a contractor for a New Jersey-based insurer, The Commercial Agency, with six-hour daily workdays ending at 3 pm. McManus got the gig through WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Experts), a New York City company that matches retirees and others over 50 who have expertise in insurance, accounting or human relations, with employers who are happy to let them work their preferred schedules remotely.
“I like being at home and I don’t have to commute in the snow,” McManus says. “It just works out real well for me.”
The 72 million members of the nation’s baby boomer generation are hitting retirement age at a time when America’s corporations and small businesses need them more than ever. With 11.3 million job openings across the country, employers yearn for workers who know what they are doing. As a result, companies and small businesses are trying to lure people in their 60s off pickleball courts and golf courses.
Many older Americans are also finding that work can be part of a healthy retirement. The generation that first entered the workforce in 1962 has typically seemed reluctant to leave it. Lately, some of its members are finding ways to have working retirements. They are being driven by the idea that working longer and easing into retirement can help people live longer and healthier lives .
Some simply need, or appreciate, the extra income. If Tom Brady can keep playing football, how hard could Zoom meetings really be? The Best New Idea in Retirement might just be to work a little more .
“What I’m seeing is people who are just blowing past this idea of traditional retirement,” says John Tarnoff, a Los Angeles-based career transition coach and co-host of “ The Second Act Show ” livecast. “The word ‘retirement’ doesn’t quite describe this lifestyle, so many people are evolving into” it.
Growing numbers of employers are finding that letting people like McManus work part time in retirement is working out well for their businesses, too.
“They’re starting to see how some of these age-inclusive strategies are going to get them back on their feet [after a rocky time for business during the pandemic],” says University of Iowa College of Public Health professor Brian Kaskie, who also directs the Age-Inclusive Management Strategies program in Colorado.
Employing people to work part time in retirement helps address what Janine Vanderburg calls “the talent paradox.” She runs Changing the Narrative, a Denver-based campaign to change the way people think, talk and act about aging and ageism.
“We have all the ‘For Hire’ signs and we have all the [prospective] older workers,” says Vanderburg. She’s starting to see an increase in the number of employers who, she says, “are like, ‘Of course, older workers!’”
Kerry Hannon, author of the new book, “In Control at 50+,” says: “For older workers, being able to work at home is huge and remote work being so accepted now opens the door to so many more opportunities for them.”
What’s happening and why
Last year, Susan Weinstock noticed a big change in her job when she worked as AARP’s vice president of financial resilience programming. Companies started signing up for the AARP Employer Pledge Program , affirming the value of experienced workers. The pledges trickled in at first and then quickly grew into a flood, with over 1,000 employers signing up.
Both AARP and the nonprofit Age-Friendly Institute (which elevates and accelerates age-friendly programs and services) have seen a dramatic rise in the number of employers coming to them to receive “age-friendly” employer designations. “In 2022, it hasn’t slowed down,” notes Weinstock.
One reason the employers like signing the pledge, Weinstock says, “is then we can post [their] jobs on our job board.” (She recently left AARP to become CEO of the Consumer Federation of America.)
Says David Casey, chief diversity officer at giant pharmacy chain CVS Health /zigman2/quotes/209664499/composite CVS +0.98% , one of AARP’s Age-Friendly Employers: “Mature workers contribute a wealth of unique experiences, skills and perspectives to our workforce that can help us better serve our customers and develop our teams.”
Organizations signing the AARP pledge are asked — but not required — to take two actions in two years to demonstrate their commitment to a multi-generational workforce and age diversity. Nearly 120 employers are now Certified Age-Friendly Employers , a designation from the Age-Friendly Institute to assist job seekers who are 50 or older. Organizations who successfully complete the certification evaluation are then listed on the RetirementJobs.com site.
“In the last two or three years, there’s been a sharp trajectory,” says Tim Driver, founder of the Age-Friendly Institute and CEO of RetirementJobs.com. Based on the current flow of applicants and the pipeline, Driver says, “this program will double or even triple this year.”
Sharon Emek, CEO and founder of WAHVE, says she’s overwhelmed with demand from employers looking to hire her older workers. Right now, WAHVE is trying to fill almost 300 contract positions for mostly long-term assignments.
“Every year we grow by 20%,” Emek says. And Lisa Jensen, career services program manager at Workforce Boulder County, a government agency for job seekers, says: “I’m absolutely finding people who want to work in their later years. They either aren’t ready to retire financially or not ready professionally.”
The tight job market is clearly a key reason more employers want to be seen as age-friendly. And it’s why they’re hiring people to work in retirement and letting retiring employees switch from full-time jobs to part-time ones. Often, they’re finding there aren’t enough younger people to get the work done.
It’s a demographic trend that will continue for decades, says Bradley Schurman, author of “The Super Age.” He believes boomers may be the answer to employers’ current quest to fill open positions. “We’ve had decreasing birth rates for some time. So, Gen Z is smaller than the millennial generation. And following that, Gen Alpha’s even smaller,” says Schurman. “ We can’t say ‘This will turn around in five or 10 years.’ This is actually going to get a lot worse.”
Paul Rupert, whose Rupert Organizational Design firm helps organizations build flexible work policies and initiatives, says demographics are transforming employers’ attitudes toward aging workers. “The ‘buy ‘em, use ‘em for 30 years and toss ‘em model is no longer organizationally feasible,” says Rupert, who also runs the Respectful Exits phased retirement social advocacy campaign.
“We’ve made the switch from an industrial to an information-based economy, which means you’ve got a whole class of people who are holding vital knowledge,” notes Rupert. “And so, the idea of people walking out the door can cripple a company.”
In the pandemic, many employees in their 60s (like me) have quit their full-time positions and instead chosen what’s known as either semi-retirement or unretirement — working part-time in retirement, often from home and often at jobs giving them a sense of purpose as well as income.
I had been managing editor of the PBS site for people 50+, Next Avenue , and editor of its Money & Policy and Work & Purpose channels, but left that job in January 2022 to begin my new stage of life. Now, I’m writing The View From Retirement biweekly column for MarketWatch , freelancing for Next Avenue and other media outlets and running the digital media strategies program for the 2022 NYU Summer Publishing Institute. I’m also continuing to co-host the Friends Talk Money podcast , which has a new episode about working in retirement.
But I’m also giving myself plenty of downtime to enjoy retirement — traveling, volunteering, reading and watching gads of streaming TV shows and films.
Making part-time work viable for older employees in retirement is becoming essential for employers like Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Colorado in Denver. Most people who retire from JFS of Colorado switch to part-time employment there.
Says Kristine Burrows, its director of aging care and connections and a “reframing aging” trainer: “That older cohort of workers is bringing a lot of creative energy and a lot of skill and a lot of expertise to the table. And so, it makes sense to keep that expertise as long as we can.”