How to blend work and retirement

For many, retirement isn't a full stop. Mark Miller discusses how to plan for a phased retirement that includes work and shares useful resources

Mark Miller 12 August, 2019 | 2:48AM

 Working in Retirement

Fred Dodd worked for large banks most of his career as a risk analyst, but last year he was the victim of a corporate restructuring. At age 63, he considered retiring. "But part of me just wanted to keep working-- partly for the money, but more just because I felt I wanted to do more in my career," he says.

Dodd, who lives in the Boston area, started hunting for a full-time job in his field, and also explored branching out to work in nonprofit, higher education, or biotech, but he wasn't finding much. "It's always hard to know if it's age discrimination, but I did feel that there was hesitancy to take on someone at my age," he says.

Instead, Dodd settled on a different approach, signing up with a U.S.-based firm that matches up seasoned professional workers with companies who need part-time help. Dodd was placed with a small investment advisory firm. Now 65, he is working full-time hours there, but probably will soon move to more project-oriented work requiring fewer hours. That suits him fine.

"At first I was eager to find something with good pay and benefits that would let me get back in the saddle," he recalls. "But another part of me was ambivalent; do I really want to sign up for that again?"

Working longer can be a great way to boost your retirement security, or just stay engaged. But Dodd's story points to an important element of any plan to keep working: It doesn't necessarily require keeping your nose to the grindstone full-time--or even sticking with the same grindstone.

But how exactly to pull that off? Few employers have established structures for phased retirement. The programs that do exist are found among employers with larger or technical and professional workforces, or those experiencing labor shortages. Most often it's up to older workers to beat a new pathway to a blend of work and retirement, says Kerry Hannon, a writer and speaker who is an expert on careers and entrepreneurship.

"This is a time not to be caught up in the linear idea of work that you may have had in your primary career," she says. "This is work as a patchwork quilt where you weave a little of this and a little of that. You might do one thing for a few years and shift to something completely different, or you might do a couple of different types of work at the same time." Working for pay in retirement--either part-time or on a contract--offers many benefits that go beyond money, Hannon adds.

"Yes, being paid for work is important; it makes our work feel valued and appreciated, even if it is less than we earned in our primary career," she notes. "But it is the actual work itself, having somewhere to go, giving back, adding value to the world around us that is at the heart of it, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that intangible benefit of work."

Ready, Get Set, Blend
Experts who work frequently with older workers recommend several tactic steps to get ready for a blended retirement.

  1. Plan ahead. Dorian Mintzer, a retirement coach, speaker and author, recommends getting started while you're still working. "Do a careful assessment of your skills, and which might be transferable to new work? And what is the work that speaks to your heart?"

  2. Polish your skills. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey asked U.S. workers what steps they are taking to ensure they can continue working past age 65 or in retirement, 62% said they are staying healthy so that they can continue working, and 56% say that they are focusing on performing well at their current jobs. But only 46% said they are keeping their job skills up to date, and just 21% are networking and meeting new people, 18% are scoping out the employment market, and just 13% have gone back to school to learn new skills.

    "Those numbers prompt a tough love question," says Catherine Collinson, the center's CEO. "The world is changing so fast and the labor market is so competitive, it's imperative that we keep skills up."

  3. Be discreet. Collinson adds that it's important to do your homework with discretion if you're still working full time and thinking ahead to a blended retirement. "You don't want to tip your hand that you're thinking of retirement," she says. "If becomes widely known at work that you're thinking of retirement, people will think you're on the way out the door even though you may not be. Once that genie is out of bottle, it's very difficult to put it back."

 Morningstar.com columnist Mark Miller is an expert on trends in retirement and aging. He also contributes to Reuters, WealthManagement.com, and The New York Times. This article was originally published in the U.S. and has been edited for a Canadian audience.

About Author

Mark Miller  Morningstar columnist Mark Miller writes about trends in retirement and aging. He is the author of The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work and Living, and writes the syndicated newspaper column Retire Smart. Mark blogs at RetirementRevised.com.