August 2, 2018 / 10:00 AM / in 2 months

COLUMN-Is meaningful, part-time work in retirement a myth?

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO, Aug 2 - As Pamela Pommer entered her 60s, she planned to work part-time helping aging people deal with financial troubles. But like many baby boomers she realized that a “meaningful” position is much harder to find than she had imagined.

About a year ago, Pommer was laid off from a human resources job at a for-profit college in suburban Minneapolis.

“I had read the book: ‘Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow,’” said Pommer, 64. “I devoured it. But it turned out to be elusive.”

Numerous studies suggest Pommer’s experience is not unusual. Only 11 percent of people aged 61 to 66 found part-time jobs as they transitioned into retirement, according to a 2017 study by the U.S. General Accountability Office.

The research, commissioned by the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, found that even though baby boomers, unlike earlier generations, want to work part-time before entering full retirement, few employers’ policies allow it - essentially the same as 10 years ago.

Companies are reluctant to hire older workers because of legal and operational issues, the study found, citing high health insurance costs and fear of discrimination lawsuits if younger employees are not given the same flexibility. Managers also complain about tracking time on the job, accounting for merit increases, bonuses and juggling schedules, the GAO said.

That does not mean you should give up on a meaningful career move or a part-time job in retirement. Just know that many potential employers may not be there with open arms.

Here is advice from experts and people who have taken the leap.

ASK ANYWAY

Although most organizations are not set up to give people in their 60s flexibility, companies are starting to rethink policies because millennials also want the freedom to work on less rigid schedules, said David DeLong, founder of Smart Workforce Strategies, a consultancy in Concord, Massachusetts.

Long before asking for flexibility, “have a heart-to-heart with your boss to make sure you are a valued employee,” said DeLong.

Make sure your job can work on flex-time. Northeast Bank in Minneapolis tried to accommodate a valued branch manager and commercial lender who wanted to semi-retire, but it did not work out, Human Resources Director Sue Johnson LaGue said.

With time away from the office, deals were not getting done quickly enough. The bank ended the arrangement, but continues to offer part-time work to retired tellers and receptionists.

“We love our baby boomers,” said LaGue. “They have a ton of experience, need no training and are dedicated and dependable.”

THINK TEMPORARY

Encore careers are often short-term. You may do best by consulting and moving from gig to gig rather than trying to settle into one position.

Matt Budd, founder of Financial Executives Consulting Group in Darien, Connecticut, advised accepting a less-than-ideal job and then seeking a better one from a position of strength. “Get a title and a business card,” he said.

JUST DO IT

Starting an encore business may be easier than finding a willing part-time employer, but start-up costs and attracting new customers can be overwhelming.

When Russ Ferance lost his computer hardware and software sales job in northern Michigan at 65, he could not get rehired at companies which were looking for young salesmen.

Ferance obtained the necessary certification to sell Medicare-related health insurance. Now the 73-year-old moves between the warm weather of Sarasota, Florida, and his northern Michigan home. It was not easy starting fresh, but the independence is invaluable, he said. (Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)

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