Find Retirement Work You Like: Tips from a Pro

Last Updated Sep 16, 2010 7:12 PM EDT

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at a retirement planning workshop with Helen Dennis, who taught and researched for many years at USC's Andrus Gerontology Center and is the co-author of Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women. The audience was a group of employees of a consulting company; all were in their fifties and sixties, and most of them had worked for the company for many years.

"What has kept you at your current job for so long?" Helen asked the group. The audience members called out their answers, which included:

  • Stimulating intellectual environment
  • Working in a collegial atmosphere with interesting people
  • A feeling of respect
  • The sense that you're helping people and the country
  • Good pay and benefits
  • Doing what you're good at -- using your skills and experience in a productive way
"Use your work experience as a guide to the future," Helen then counseled the audience. "People don't change that much. If that's what you like at work now, then look for these characteristics in a retirement job."

One of the audience members then added, "If we have these features at our current job, why retire?" I couldn't have said it better myself. There's no need to give in to cultural expectations to retire if you like your current work.

But there may come a time when your current job no longer fits your lifestyle or needs, and you find yourself seeking other work. In that case, following Helen's advice -- which I'm passing along to you -- is a smart move. First, she says, make a list of the features that you like about your current job or career. Then look for these features in a retirement job.

Of course, life isn't always black and white: With many jobs, there are features you like and dislike. So I'd add to Helen's advice: Also make a list of the features you don't like about your current job. Then, when you're looking for retirement work, try to avoid them.

One other bit of advice: Try going through this exercise now, while you're still employed, and see how your current job stacks up. If the pros outweigh the cons, you might try reducing or eliminating the things you don't like so you can keep doing this work for as long as possible. For most people who are working in their retirement years, that usually means reducing the number of hours you work. It could also mean reducing your management responsibilities, and seeking out just the work that you like and are good at.

As I've previously written, many boomers will need to work in their retirement years, just to make ends meet. But there's also fascinating evidence that working in your later years can improve your health and longevity. So looking for work that you like is a critical part of your retirement planning. Finding it will help you live long and prosper!

Image from iStockphoto contributor absolut_100
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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.