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    Many Boomers Must Work

    agingThese days Boomers, meaning those of us between 50 and 68, are feeling squeezed in ways we never expected. Our mantra has always been, “I want to live!” and most of us have lived well, benefitting greatly from more than 60 years of a generally expanding economy and American global pre-eminence.

    Now Boomers are feeling the impact of many changes in the world around us, some of our own making. As a group, we did not, or could not, save enough to fund the coming years. The situation is made worse because we will live longer than we, or any actuary, ever thought that we would. As a result, the mantra of many Boomers has changed to this: “I have to work!”

    A recent Transamerica Retirement Survey found that 65% of Boomers are planning to work past 65 years of age, 63% because they have only “somewhat recovered” or “not yet begun to recover” from the Great Recession. In addition, more than a third of respondents (34%) felt that they could not afford to retire.

    The implications for those of you who are employed may mean doing what you must to keep a current job, or to try to get a new one. For those who are not employed yet seeking work, it means competing with a younger workforce whose skill set may rightly or wrongly be seen as more current by hiring managers.

    And then there is the issue of age. From an employer’s perspective, workers over 50 can seem a risky investment, since it takes time for new hires to become productive, and most jobs these days require longer hours and often involve increased workloads. Older workers can be perceived by hiring managers as not in it for the long haul or “too pooped to pop,” even though the reality is that few workers of any age stay in one job or firm for long compared to 25 or 50 years ago, and older workers can have ample energy and stamina.

    Should all of this lead to despair? Of course not! What is required to negotiate the employment minefield for an older worker involves self-reflection, practicality and perseverance.

    If you are over 50, employed, and want to keep your job, the obvious first step is to examine your own skill sets, expertise and job-based relationships, as well as the likely future of your employer, to determine any vulnerabilities. That means being honest with yourself about whether you need to update your skills and knowledge base, and whether your relationships function well. Being in good shape on these dimensions minimizes the chances of ending up seeking opportunities elsewhere.

    If you are over 50 and want to change jobs or get a job, things are more complex. The same honest self-examination is necessary, but will likely lead you to a narrower range of possibilities at the end of the analysis than when you started. This is a good thing. The more your desired job options relate to your actual background the better, because getting a job doing something you know and do well is more probable, all things considered, than getting a job doing something very different. Not many 60-year-olds get to be an astronaut, unless they already are one.

    That’s not to say that someone cannot stretch into new jobs that involve using existing skills and expertise in a new context. Usually that requires an awareness of the risks involved in making that stretch, and an understanding of one’s risk tolerance. Moving from a corporate job into an outside consulting role is a good example of moving from a lower to higher risk position. One should have a good understanding of the risks inherent in any shift in focus before making a leap.

    One of the realities of being older, whether you have a job or not, is the desire to do something more exciting or meaningful than what you are doing now. That desire can accompany a feeling of having paid ones dues and now it’s time to have some fun, do something meaningful, and/or get out of a rut. That can lead to many exciting directions: moving from the for-profit to the non-profit sector to give back to society, starting your own business, or finally making the plunge into the wine industry where you may have always wanted to work.

    Just make sure you look carefully before you leap. What may feel like the right thing at the outset could fail if you do not assess the potential outcomes well in advance. Unfortunately, 60-year-olds are usually not as resilient as 25-year-olds, unless they have a financial safety net somewhere. Being practical and realistic about job prospects is not a crime. Those qualities can, in fact, help you to stay, or become, meaningfully employed.