Although we would like to think the decision when to retire is up to our individual preference, not everyone has control over when they will transition into their second act. There are forces at work that can impact the arrival date for better or worse. You may have to stick with a job longer than you hoped because you have not yet accumulated sufficient savings to meet the financial requirements of retirement. Instead of winding down a lifelong career and shifting gears to begin your new role doing what you want you may have to stay at the grind a while longer – sometimes a lot longer.
But at least you still have your job. With some extra effort and commitment you can hope to tough it out. There are others who would gladly continue in their current job role, challenging though it may be, but do not have the option. For various reasons they find themselves forced to retire before they would like, ahead of plan, and sometimes before they ready to make the move.
A reader of mine shared her fear of what the future holds when she was forced to retire at age 58 due to her inability to continue with the physical demands of her position. She had been at the same company for more than 30 years but was not ready to retire. She had hoped to put aside additional savings while she had a full time job so she could enjoy the retired life she envisioned. Forced to retire ahead of schedule she was unsure what to do next.
Older employees are often more costly to maintain than their younger counterparts. Health insurance rates for workers over 50 can seem burdensome to small companies. Many who have worked on the same job for decades have risen through the ranks or graduated into higher pay grades. Those higher salary requirements can be reduced by bringing in new people who start at the bottom. Though the skill level may not be there at first, younger employees have the additional attractiveness of likely being with the company for a longer period of time. Sometimes it just seems to make sense to go with someone younger.
Back in 2011 I joined a small start-up made up of twenty gung ho gonna-make-it-happen believers. Everyone was happy to work hard, always holding onto the dream of what could be. We were growing at a nice pace when a bigger company (8000 employees worth) purchased us. As is often the case with acquisitions various parts of our little start-up did not fit in with the corporate structure including my team. So at the age of 53 I found myself back on the streets looking for my next gig in a very difficult economy.
After six months of intense interviewing for numerous positions I came to the disheartening realization I was too old to do what I had been doing successfully for 30 years. Nothing had changed in my skill set – I was just getting older. At almost all of the companies I interviewed upper management was younger than me, many significantly younger. Apparently an “older guy” running a young aggressive sales team was not what they were looking for. I began to seriously wonder if I would ever find another job.
As more months crawled by reality began to sink in – my retirement days were effectively under way. All of our plans for the future included me working until 65 or at the very least 62. If I never worked full time again it would seriously impact our finances. But the writing was on the wall. Like many others shuffled out of the mainstream before their time I found myself among the ranks of the retired well before I planned.
Fortunately in that my wife was able to continue working until her retirement last year. Because of her efforts we had health insurance and were able to add to our savings for five more years. But it would have been nice to have included my contribution as well. And it would have been nice to be the one to decide when I retired. But what is nice is not always reality.
We are lucky. We should be able to get by based on savings and social security and living within our means. Not everyone is so fortunate. More and more workers nearing retirement find themselves out of a job at a time when they can ill afford it. According to Jamie Hopkins, associate director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income, about 45 percent of people retire earlier than they planned. The best laid plans can dissolve into wishful thinking if you are not given time to sufficiently fund your fun. It is scary but it is a reality many planning to retire are forced to face.