As an older worker the choice to leave your job may not be your own

In 1988, at the age of 58, my father was laid off from his job as a lighting engineer at GTE Sylvania. Thus began his forced retirement.

My mother worked two more years and left her job in the school system on her own terms.

Both had vastly different experiences exiting their jobs.

My father’s lay off came as a surprise. With a lump in his throat, he asked HR how long he had to finish up his projects. They told him there was no need, his job was done, and he could go. It was a tremendous blow. He had worked 21 years for the company, and this was not the way he expected to finish his work life. For the remainder of his days, he carried a sense of shame about the experience.

My mother’s situation was vastly different. When she announced her retirement, the Superintendent of Schools wrote her a glowing letter paying tribute to her many virtues and noting how sad it was that she was leaving. She was given a big sendoff party with workmates and local officials invited.

I was 30 years old at the time of my parent’s retirement and working in a senior management role at a major corporation. Working 55+ hours per week and leading a large regional team, I noted to myself, this should be an important lesson to remember - that no matter how hard one works, the right to choose when you leave may not be your own.

There is an ongoing Health and Retirement Study (HRS) that follows a nationally representative sample of 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 to the rest of their lives. The study found 56% of older workers were laid off or pushed out of their jobs rather than voluntarily choosing their retirement.

For many, this has led to financially devastating consequences. Those who lose their jobs in their 50’s and early 60’s and find it impossible to secure a new job, do not yet qualify for Medicare or Social Security. 

According to labor economist Henry Farber, as an older worker, statistically you are substantially less likely to be re-employed. Unable to find a job, many “choose” retirement, but are financially and emotionally unprepared for the consequences.

Today, there are a lot more older workers than in years past. Over ¼ of Americans between 65 to 74 are continuing to work. That number is about 7% for people over 75, according to census data.

The Pew Research Center notes that we have a total of 11 million older Americans working today, which is almost quadruple the number working in the mid-'80s.

If the HRS study holds true, over 6 million of these workers will be pushed into retirement.

At 62, a friend of mine was let go from a senior level position. While it has only been four months, he has applied for several jobs and received phone interviews for a few. None have led to anything past an initial interview. In the back of my mind, I do wonder if he has crossed the line into older worker status that inhibits recruiters or employers from entertaining his application.

More than 40% of workers over the age of 40 say they've experienced age discrimination at work in the last three years, according to a recent AARP survey. And nearly 40% cite ageism as their top concern when trying to look for work.

With 10,000 baby boomers a day turning 65, their experience, loyalty and strong work ethic make a strong case for companies to reconsider the benefits of hiring older workers.

If you find yourself retiring before you planned, you are in good company. Give yourself time to rethink your next steps and find a new path.

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Categories: Elder ConcernsNumber of views: 54

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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