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Thriving in the prime of life

Canada's baby boomers are redefining what it means to retire

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Are you dreaming of riding off into the sunset, aging like fine wine and convincing yourself that 50 is the new 40? You are not alone.

Clichés aside, a significant number of people are heading into the last decade of their working years. Most baby boomers can vividly recall the "Freedom 55" slogan of the mid-1980s that had us dreaming of living out our retirement years on sandy beaches without a care in the world. However, our definition and concept of retirement has changed significantly since the ‘80s.

The Freedom 55 marketing idea was in response to the growing concerns of Canadians wondering if they would have enough money to fully retire when they were still young enough to enjoy it.

Back in the '80s, workers may have looked forward to retiring at age 55, but the reality today is that many Canadians expect to remain in the workforce for several years longer than age 55.

The trend toward early retirement shifted in 1997 when the employment rate of those over 55 began to steadily increase. A 2011 report from Statistics Canada states that the employment rate of men 55 years or over has grown from 30 per cent in 1997 to over 39 per cent in 2010 (for women it rose from 16 per cent to 29 per cent). This translates into more than 1 in 6 workers in Canada being 55 or older.

There are a number of interesting trends that have contributed to this shift of more people remaining in the workforce well into their 50s and 60s. The baby boomers, Canadians born between 1946 and 1964, represent a large demographic, and during 2011 the first of the boomers turned 65. The boomers are a more highly educated group and their work is less physically demanding so they are more physically able to remain in the workforce.

With recent financial recessions and increasing fears about the security of their pension plans, they have reason to be concerned about their incomes carrying them through their senior years, which for some could be another three decades or more. This group has become accustomed to some pretty comfortable lifestyles along the way as well.

There is more caution about leaving the workforce completely. The middle-of-thepack boomers have started to sympathize with one another's "freedom 65" plans, envisioning that they may have to remain in the workforce well into their 60s.

What does all of this mean in terms of life balance? Well, even if you are part of the 50-plus crowd, your circumstances will be unique. Some boomers remain in the workforce for reasons of personal fulfillment, while others remain in the workforce out of necessity.

Many workers in their 50s are still launching adult children into the world and possibly caring for elderly parents. Some older workers are forced to leave their work for health reasons, while others retain their good health because they are able to work.

One important fact for all workers is that transitioning out of the workforce is a process, not an event. For some, this process can cause personal upheaval, especially for those who have not prepared themselves for the changes it can bring.

In his 2008 book, The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams at Any Age You Want, Mitch Anthony explores the new meaning of retirement and challenges our outdated thinking on what it means to retire. Anthony inspires the reader to think about what we value in life, and to chart a personally meaningful journey through the latter working years. People's needs and interests are unique. One factor that is important for every older worker is to do some planning and think about what their own personal needs and interests are as they transition through the process.

This process of self-reflection may not come naturally to everyone, yet it is through this process that people can discover what really matters to them and then find creative ways to maintain those things in their life. New work-life options such as working reduced hours, more flexible schedules, and contract or seasonal work are some of the options being explored by older workers.

Some of the things that we look forward to in retirement include being able to travel, enjoying more time with family including grandchildren, or time to pursue hobbies and other interests. But these pursuits often require money and good health. Or do they?

Some of the questions you might ask yourself as you plan your work life transition include:

  • What gives me the greatest satisfaction at work?
  • Do I enjoy the people I work with?
  • Do I have enough energy and time with the people who mean the most to me?
  • Are my talents and skills being used to their best ability?
  • What other contributions do I want to make in my life?

So what can you do to have a healthy and happy transition into retirement, however that looks for you?

Having good genes plays a role, but a number of factors are within our own control. One of the most important factors in easing out of the full-time workforce has to do with staying active and connected. For example, you will need to think about developing meaningful social connections outside of the work setting. Is there a role for you as a volunteer? Where could you meet like-minded individuals who share your values and interests?

Whether you are able to fully retire in your 50s or you stay in the workforce in some capacity full- or part-time into your 60s, you owe it to yourself to look closely at the quality of work-life you have and make sure it aligns with your values as much as possible. Consider ways you could incorporate self-care and personal fulfillment in your life every day. Look into community resources such as the library or employee assistance programs for counsellors who specialize in career transitions. By giving some thought to this transition in your life, you will be making an investment in yourself that will have payoffs for years to come.

Laurie McPherson is a mental health promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Health Region.

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