When France moved to increase the country's retirement age from 62 to 64, protests erupted across cities nationwide. France is not alone—the United States, Belgium, and China have recently explored increasing their official retirement age at a time when people are living longer, healthier lives. Samuel Rabinowitz, distinguished service professor at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, is among those who believe the traditional "40-year career" has evolved.
"The basic presumption has fundamentally changed," Rabinowitz said. "The old prospect of spending 40 years with one organization and then retiring doesn't exist anymore."
According to U.S. Census survey data, as of May 2022, nearly 22 percent of Americans 65 and older were still working, compared to 19.5 percent in 2020 and only 10 percent in 1985. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the trend to continue, estimating that 29.9 percent of people aged 65-74 will participate at some level in the labor force in 2024, up from 26.2 percent in 2014.
Rabinowitz believes workers and companies must take a broader view of work, understanding that people move through “ages and stages” in their lives and may not necessarily want to stop working. Furthermore, longer careers will likely shift perceptions and expectations around career progression. “Career planning and career management have evolved into career and life management,” said Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz offered the example of someone who entered the military in their 20s and enjoyed a successful career, leading to retirement in their 50s. "Technically, that person has had a traditionally complete career, but they are middle-aged; it’s natural to think they might look to do something else that leverages the skills and knowledge they’ve gained over the years,” Rabinowitz said.
The promise of an extended career arc is an opportunity for businesses that have faced an increasingly volatile market for high-quality employees. An expanded pool of applicants leads to enticing possibilities for workers and companies alike.
"One benefit of people retiring later is the creation of dynamic, diverse work environments," said Rabinowitz. "More experienced workers share knowledge with younger peers, and the younger workers introduce new, innovative ideas. This kind of diversity at the team level boosts productivity and leads to positive organizational outcomes.”
However, only some professions are suited for long careers, and only some employees are interested in working longer. Occupations that require strenuous physical activity or a high degree of stress appeal less to older workers.
“One size doesn't fit all,” said Rabinowitz. “There are a variety of reasons people may want or need to leave the workforce at 65 or earlier.”
But for some older employees, the opportunity to stay in the workforce can provide a sense of purpose and meaning. Regardless of where an employee may be in their career journey, Rabinowitz recommends evaluating what they value in a job or organization, understanding their goals, and then aligning those things with potential opportunities.
"It's important to have a long-term career vision and find the right fit," said Rabinowitz. "But it's also important to look for unexpected opportunities to evolve."
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