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Who determines your WORK-LIFE in old age? You or the others?

Recently I spoke to an owner of a medium-sized company about working when getting in "retirement"-age and quitting ... or not.

He has an employee who started working in his profession at the age of 15 and should officially retire in his late 50s, after working for more than 40 years. That was 15 years ago and the employee is still with the company today. Because he feels like doing it because he is good and reliable because he has accumulated an enormous knowledge over decades in the company. And the owner is happy to keep him busy, take advantage of his wisdom, and continues to pay him the same salary.

Why not?

Do we stop working at a certain age because the rules, the laws (which have not yet been adapted to the 21st century) dictate that you "retire" and "have to quit" when you are in your early or mid-60s?

Today we are all getting older, we have a better health system and through university years and spending a year abroad, which used to be less common in the past, we also start our professional and working life a little later. Can the laws and mindsets keep up with that progress?

Why not pay more attention to the knowledge, experience, willingness, and commitment of the "mature generation" and integrate them into our organizational structures? And then combine this with the younger generation's pioneer spirit, their desire to try things out and learning from mistakes.

Combining experience and curiosity – to create something new

The ideal recipe would be that we learn to combine wisdom and experience with curiosity for new things, a beginner attitude, and a willingness to develop and grow.

"Experience is making a comeback again. Because at a time when corporate management is in the hands of younger generations, organizations are finally becoming aware of values such as humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that go hand in hand with age. And when digital skills may only have an expiration date from the latest fads or gadgets, human skills that employees have mid-career - such as good judgment, expertise, or the ability to collaborate and coach - never expire." That's how Chip Conley describes it, author of the book "Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder".

"Best-before-date" has expired

In another conversation a few days ago, a friend mentioned how his father was retired at the age of 60 from his work at a public office where he successfully built up and managed a department over decades. Since he still enjoys his work a lot, he still feels young and is very popular with his colleagues, he offered to work even longer, even for less or fewer days.

No. The sell-by date has passed, the law says he can no longer work, so he had to pack up and leave. Seriously?!

Being narrow-minded, not realizing and being aware of how the working and corporate world is changing, and looking to the future, demonstrates a lack of attention.


When is the ideal age to retire? NEVER.

Harvard University economists coined the term "un-retirement" to describe the number of people who retire, find they don't like it, and go back to work. Between 25 and 40 percent of retirees re-enter the labor market.

The reason given by the unretired people is that they have a purpose, continue to use the brain, and enjoy social exchange and commitment.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin interviewed people between the ages of 70 and 100 and asked them what contributes to life satisfaction for them. Every single one of them was still working. Some have changed their work pace due to age-related slowdowns, but in the partial days they work, they achieve more than most of their younger colleagues.

Multi-generation teams

It has been discovered that teams with multiple generations and long-standing team members tend to be more productive. Older team members increase the productivity of their colleagues and such teams usually outperform those of the same generation.

Ultimately, the goal should be that everyone in an organization or group feels included, welcomed, valued, and respected. Which means nothing else than paying attention and thereby promoting fruitful cooperation.

The American filmmaker and theater director Frederick Wiseman is 91, finished another film just before the lockdown last year, and can't wait to go back to work when the Corona restrictions are lifted.

A few years ago he described: "As for my age, I am completely ignorant and do not pay attention to what I find extremely useful. Of course, from time to time I allow myself to become aware of my age, but it's not something I think about. I like to work. I work very hard."

Un-Retiredness and not tiredness. Re-tire. Put the tires back on. Why not?


photo © Rüdiger Schrader


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