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Boomers try to put their own spin on 'retirement'

By Kathy Gurchiek   1/11/2006
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The nations estimated 78 million baby boomers start turning 60 this month, two years shy of when they can start drawing Social Security and they are expected to redefine retirement just as by their sheer numbers boomers have influenced the workplace in past decades.

More than 7,900 of the oldest of the boomersthe generation born between 1946 and 1964turn 60 years old each day this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's 330 every hour, and they're not all that keen on accepting a gold watch and fading into the retirement sunset.

Instead, many are opting out of retirement in favor of meaningful activities that include teaching, sitting on boards, part-time work, volunteerism and leisure activities, according to the Boston-based New Directions, a career/life transition firm for senior executives.

Among key trends it has identified:

    Getting on board. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which established stringent financial reporting requirements for companies doing business in the United States, combined with what New Directions calls a scarcity of CEOs for those board positions, will lead to a growing demand for retirement-age persons to fill those seats.

    Succession planning and retention. While succession planning typically means grooming future leaders, companies that are aware of their senior executives' retirement plans can explore flexible ways to retain senior talent.

    Lending a helping hand. Expect to see boomers head to nonprofit organizations where they can put their professional skills to use.

    I'm in charge. Some retirement-age execs who have been in the corporate world are starting businesses of all kinds, including alpaca farming, selling lighthouse doodads and starting hardware chains.

HR has a great opportunity to be thought leaders in solving the potential brain drain when boomers start to retire, New Directions president Jeff Redmond told HR News. One way to get C-level executives talking about their plans for the future is to offer life planning as a benefit, he suggested. The company steps back and doesn't try to intercede and worry about whether the person is staying with the company or going off to the American Red Cross, but let's the idea germinate. As a [work] culture people start to talk about it, he said. Learn what people plan to do and work that into a succession plan, he added, pointing to a senior-level banker, now age 70, who returned to work at the bank three days a week. That banker is like executives surveyed in fall 2005 by global executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International. It found that 44 percent of respondents plan to work past age 64 and that 15 percent plan to work past 70.

The baby boomer generation is known for its work ethic and many are simply not ready to slow down, especially as the average life span continues to increase, Korn/Ferry Managing Director Charles W.B. Wardell III noted in a press release.

While this wont solve the pending demographic shortfall of talent, it will provide organizations with more opportunity to leverage senior talent and migrate institutional knowledge to younger workers.

Those boomers will be joining the ranks of the already working retired, according to Putnam Investments, whose recent research found that about 7 million previously retired Americans have returned to work for pay after an average sabbatical of 1.5 years. Most are in a job requiring at least the same skill and experience levels as their prior position, it noted.

For many, retirement is just a planned pause before resuming a career, Putnams head of retail management, William T. Connolly, said in a press release. These working retired are, by our estimate, now almost one-third of all American retirees.

However, unlike some people who must continue working because they dont have a choice, New Directions Redmond said, senior executives who remain active to some degree in the workforce are Type A people who want to stay involved.

"They're ready to do something different but they're not ready to do nothing," he said, "and they're not ready to [play] full-time golf."

Kathy Gurchiek is an associate editor at HR News . She can be reached at

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