Companies & Industries

The New World of Work after "Retirement"


Forget about severing all ties with a company. It's time we make "deceleration" an actual career phase, writes Tammy Erickson

Posted on Across the Ages: February 12, 2008 9:38 AM

It's time to formalize a "deceleration" career phase—one that lets us ease up and step down, without the angst that comes from doing something outside the norm. I know the concerns: What about the loss of prestige? Can we really reduce people's salaries? How will it affect pensions? All important issues—and ones we need to work through as we retire retirement.

People are stepping down. They're just leaving your organization, walking across the street, and taking a less demanding position at another firm—perhaps even a competitor.

Over the last 50 years, employees' relationships with corporate work have tended to follow a very predictable path: workers paid their dues with hard work and, often, long hours as they moved up the career hierarchy. Most employees reached their personal pinnacle (or perhaps one step beyond if you believe in the Peter Principle!) some time in their mid-40s to mid-50s—their peak of power, prestige, and earning potential. Then, in their early 60s, most had a Friday-afternoon retirement party, and—suddenly—found themselves by Monday morning lying in a hammock. Retired!

Today, this makes little sense. This curve doesn't track with our physical or intellectual energy levels; for many it doesn't work financially; and increasingly, it's a huge problem for corporations, which just can't afford to lose major contributors through an abrupt exodus.

If we want to keep talented people in the workforce longer, we need to confront three issues head on:

1. Most people (not all, let me hasten to add) do not want to work as hard in their 70s as they are in their 50s—they do want to do less.

2. Most people (not all, let me hasten to add) have "equilibrated" by their 50s—reached the highest role they are able to handle—continuing "up" would be a mistake of Peter Principle proportions

3. Keeping people in the same position for 30 years—from 50 to 80, say—would be ridiculous—frustrating to the people below, stagnating for most individuals

As individuals, we can address this reality in several ways. One of course is to move on—leave the firm where we established our "first career" success—and take a less demanding or more flexible role in another firm, or even reinvent ourselves in another field. My latest book, Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation, discusses these options.

But both of these options rob our current company of our skills and knowledge. How about if we move down instead of moving out?

Let's create bell-shaped-curves, with a career deceleration phase in workers' 50s through 80s that mirrors the career development phase of their 20s through 40s. After achieving peak levels of responsibility in midcareer, individuals would be able to continue to contribute to businesses in legitimate and respected, although less rigorous ways. Think about academia, where a person is able to step out of the highly demanding dean role, and move back to teaching part-time or doing research—roles that are highly respected but more flexible.

Most individuals today, although they want to continue working in some way in their 60s and 70s, do not want to work as long or as intensely as they have up to now. They want to cut back. Creating bell-shaped curve career paths is one good way to keep the talent in-house.

What is your company doing to accommodate this growing need?

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