Retiring later means more experience and skills stay in the workforce: Prof. Donna Wilson

A wide-reaching report by University of Alberta Professor Donna Wilson reveals some compelling facts about retirement – including the idea that working to or even beyond traditional retirement age may make sense for many of us.

Reached by Save with SPP in Edmonton, Prof. Wilson, who teaches in the Faculty of Nursing, says the “whole idea of Freedom 55, and that wonderful retirement with big vacations, is a fantasy.”

“The reality of retirement is quite different,” she explains. Sixty-four is the median age of retirement in 2020. “A year ago, it was 63, the year before it was 62, and the year before that it was 61,” she notes. “This is a massive shift – more and more people are not retiring early, and that fact is not widely recognized.”

Many are working longer because they simply lack the retirement savings or workplace pensions to be able to afford to retire, she explains. Prof. Wilson points to European studies that see a lot of people still on the job there to age 68, 69, or even 70.

“In Europe, they have worker shortages and an aging population – open jobs that can’t be filled,” she notes. Yet, often “highly qualified people” are lured into retirement because of the terms of their workplace pension plans, and are leaving work when they still have a lot to offer.

“Many pensions are based on age and years of service, such as the 85 factor. When you hit that factor, many people say `I’m outta here,’” she explains.

Prof. Wilson says Canada should seriously look at modernizing its retirement systems to align better with the reality of people wanting to work or needing to work later.

Early retirees can find they are barely making ends meet in retirement, and “a lot end up going back to work. Finances are a huge part of it but many are not prepared to be cut off from their jobs and the people they work with,” she says.

The current pandemic crisis may offer some of us “a taste of what it (retirement) could be like,” she says. “You are stuck at home, you are lonely and bored, you’d love a nice trip overseas but you can’t go.”

Prof. Wilson says that with age 64 being the current median retirement age, it means half retire before that age and the rest after it. While it’s true that some folks may have health problems and truly need to retire at a younger age, most others don’t. What can be done to keep their experience and skills in the workforce?

The professor has spent time working in Ireland, which – like Alberta – has had a boom and bust cycle in its economy. When the economy is booming, “immigration is up, there are lots of jobs, housing prices rise – and then there’s a crash, and no jobs.”

Her Irish experience found that there are many “practical, concrete things” managers can do to retain older workers, most rooted in more open communication.

“When an employee is 55 or 60, and it is time for their annual review, the boss should say `we hope you don’t think you should retire,’” so the employee feels valued and needed, the professor points out.

Similarly, “if someone becomes a grandparent, they often retire to spend more time with that grandchild. Why couldn’t the boss say `wow, how nice, do you need to work half time or do you want a few weeks off to help with the new baby?’” By being accommodating about older workers’ needs to take care of grandchildren, but maybe also ill spouses or parents, managers could offer reduced hours and leaves, Prof. Wilson explains.

HR departments, she adds, ought to consider offering health and wellness programs to help retain older workers. “There’s a lot more (employers) can do to be more proactive, and positive about older people to avoid the ingrained ageism that is out there,” she says.

Ageism is a two-faceted problem, Prof. Wilson explains. First, younger people can treat their elders with a sort of disdain, assuming they can’t hear as well, see as well, or work as hard. And, worse, there’s “self-ageism,” where older folks tend to sell themselves short.

Ageism is a myth. Recalling the old Participaction commercials from years ago, Prof. Wilson notes that a 60-year-old today could be in much better physical shape than someone half their age.

We thank Prof. Wilson for taking the time to talk with Save with SPP. Here’s a link to her research.

Flexibility is important with any retirement savings program. If you plan to work later than age 65, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to delay the start of your retirement to age 71. At that point, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of income options. Be sure to check out SPP today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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