How long do you wish to work?

This is one of the hardest questions of all to answer. Many people who have worked in the same career for years are longing for time-out – but is full-time retirement really the only solution?

Research tells us that about 70% of Australians consider retirement as an opportunity to move to part time or project work, rather than leaving the workforce completely. Full or part-retirement, however, is an entirely personal decision and one that needs to be carefully considered. The fact that most people plan to keep working, at least a little, does not mean you should feel pressured to do so. So what are the pros and cons of working on?

In favour of work

Self esteem

As we have noted, work is often an essential element in our sense of self-esteem, bring satisfaction for a job well done, connection to a like-minded ‘tribe’ and the opportunity to use our skills and experience. That is, of course, if we enjoy the work we do. There are well-documented cases of people who have taken a retirement package and become bored after six weeks and then tried to go back into the work force. So if your work offers mental stimulation it will be important to anticipate how you will get this stimulation when you check out of your day job.

Structure

The need to get to and from work and perform our duties when there offers real structure in our daily lives. When in retirement, people often declare that they are busy all the time and don’t know how they found the time to work. But not everybody is this skilled at creating structure and many find that having at least a few hours a week of work give us a real sense of purpose.

Income

At the risk of stating the obvious, many Australians will not have a choice when it comes to working later in life. The recent GFC has hit superannuation savings hard, with many funds still 20-30% lower than their 2008 highs. Living on a single (or couple’s) Age Pension means living on a very limited income – some $5,000 or so below what is considered a modest lifestyle, according to the Westpac-ASFA Retirement Living Standard. But even those who have a reasonable level of retirement savings may enjoy some extra income for life’s little luxuries, to share with their nearest and dearest, or donate to a good cause. Having extra money in our later years is the most effective way, apart from maintaining good health, of ensuring choice and independence going forward.

Reasons to take a total break

Exhaustion

Just like the weary old workhorse pulling the dray, sometimes we all reach a point when we don’t want to work fewer hours, we want a total break. This might be due to mental or physical exhaustion – too many years of doing the same thing day in, day out. Or it might be because we really dislike our role, our boss or our workplace. Wanting to leave such a situation is not only normal – it’s smart. There is plenty of research to tell us that a role so poorly aligned with our values and needs is not good for our mental health. Taking a total break is often the best way to refresh – and it doesn’t mean you are leaving the workforce forever, just as long as it suits. Do remember, however, to not let go of contact with work colleagues entirely.

Needing a change

While most people tend to resist major life changes, often a change from your current occupation can prove extremely stimulating. The trick is to explore your options thoroughly to ensure you are not leaping from the frying pan (frenetic overwork) into the fire (under employment, boredom) just to get out of a bad job.

It’s my time

When full-time retirement really seems to work best is when it is a choice – when the person concerned decides they have achieved what they seta out to do within the work sphere of their lives and there are now more important goals on their wishlist. Such goals might include spending time with grandchildren, good friends, pursuing a much loved hobby, reading the classics, gardening, sporting pursuits, spiritual matters and so on. These are very personal ambitions and no one else can suggest how we should prioritise them. But it does seem that at some time in our lives we will feel the need to nurture our souls with things that have less to do with money and status and more to do with our relationships and deeper human needs.

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Finding your dream role

How long can you work?