Kerry Hannon is a nationally recognized expert and strategist on career transitions, personal finance, entrepreneurship and retirement. She is a frequent TV and radio commentator and is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences across the country. She has appeared as a career and financial expert on The Dr. Phil Show ABC, CBS,CNBC, NBC Nightly News, NPR, and PBS.
Kerry is the best-selling and award-winning author of a dozen books. She is currently a columnist and regular contributor to The New York Times, AARP’s Work and Jobs Expert, contributing editor and Second Verse columnist at Forbes, and the PBS website NextAvenue.org expert and columnist on personal finance and entrepreneurship for boomer women.
I was interviewed by Emma Plumb, the VP Communications at Respectful Exits. Emma was the founding Director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, the first national initiative creating a collective voice in support of flexible work.
How has the landscape changed (or not) for aging workers since you first started working in this area?
Kerry Hannon: Unfortunately, the landscape has not changed much for older workers in recent years. Ageism is alive and well in the workplace. Employers worry that you are not up for the job in terms of stamina and enthusiasm. They’re concerned that you’re unwilling to learn new ways of doing things and are set in your ways. They worry that you won’t want to work for a younger boss, or will resent it. They see your expiration date. And importantly, they view you as too expensive in terms of salary and insuring your health benefits. While for individual workers, some of these things may be spot on, they are certainly not universal.
The cultural stereotypes, nonetheless, cling to us, even as the baby boomers move through the pipeline and want and need financially, in many cases, to stay working beyond age 65. Some employers have started to become innovative when it comes to reaching out to older workers when they discover they need their experience, dependability and loyalty, and there are not as many younger workers moving up to take their places.
At what age should workers start thinking about and planning for retirement, and what should be their first steps?
Kerry Hannon: You should start planning on what you might want to do at 60 at 55. It often takes three to five years to transition to something new, whether that’s working part-time or seasonally, starting an encore career, building a consulting business, transitioning to do something completely new. You might even build a patchwork quilt of several different part-time jobs, and volunteer work that will bring meaning to your life in your next chapter and your bonus years.
It might be necessary to add new skills or a certificate to move into new kinds of work. That takes time. You want to be certain you’re financially fit, have big debts paid down, and are lean and mean. That will give you options about the kind of work you might do in your next stage and whether or not you need a certain salary, or none at all.
Plan on working longer, in any case. Even if you have saved adequately for retirement, the financial safety net of some kind of ongoing income is nice to have, and you will want the social network, the intellectual stimulation. Work will keep you healthier mentally and physically. Trust me, often when people completely retire they dip into a depression. They lose their identity and sense of relevance.
What are some ways an older worker can highlight their value to an employer?
Kerry Hannon: Focus on demonstrating that you’re up to speed with your field. Lifetime learning is non-negotiable. You must be sharp and current with your skills. Raise your hand to ask for new duties, accept stretch assignments. That energy and positivity indicates you do have the stamina and enthusiasm for the company, helping solve its challenges and forward its mission. Be gracious about sharing your expertise with younger workers–a team-player. Avoid displaying any sense of entitlement. Always, it’s about what you can do for your employer, not what they can do for you.
One of the five components of the Respectful Exits Longevity Agenda is for employers to provide ongoing, on-demand financial wellness counseling to all staff. What might be an employer’s first priority in meeting this goal?
Kerry Hannon: It’s critical that employers help their employees get a sense of their overall financial picture. What does their retirement savings scenario look like? Are they saving? Can they automate savings to make it easier? Do they need help with getting financially fit by doing a budget and downsizing, paying down debts?
What are some examples of employers doing things right when it comes to supporting aging workers?
Kerry Hannon: As I wrote in this New York Times article, more than half of American baby boomers plan to work past age 65 or not retire at all, according to a report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Many worry that they will outlive their savings, that Social Security benefits will be reduced, and that they may someday need pricey long-term medical care.
A rising number of role-model employers, however, are hiring, retaining and supporting workers over 50. Those employers offer training and education opportunities and flexible scheduling; adapt physical tasks to the abilities of workers; provide advancement and leadership training for workers of all ages; retrain older workers; and allow phased retirement.