Retirement Redesigned

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

HomeRetirementThe Changing Meaning of Retirement

The Changing Meaning of Retirement

The old systems and structures don’t serve us anymore

A note from Johann

There is a new thing happening for the people now gearing up for their retirement. What used to be a cut and dried end of a working life signified by the gold watch farewell present and the pension plan are no longer what retirees look forward to. Part of this is because of the longer lives we are living and the improvements in healthcare that have enabled us to preserve our physical abilities for much longer.

Our research with more than a thousand retirees has showed that many of the people planning to retire now look to continuing work and creating a meaningful life. They want to be productive rather than play endless rounds golf or simply stroll into the sunset.

Many folks now consider staying on in their careers paths in alternative ways. Consulting positions can provide continued meaning and further income. A great number of new options are emerging. A part-time appointment in a teaching facility can be a fruitful way to share knowledge and experience. The pandemic has illustrated that we can effectively work from home and to take on remote assignments rather than staying in a full-time job.

Continued work is only one consideration for redefining retirement. There are many other aspects that have improved over the years. Our opportunities to connect with others over the internet have changed the landscape of inevitable isolation in later life. So too have our opportunities for indulging in various entertainments and projects. And thanks to relaxed restrictions, travel is back on the cards too. And we’re seeing more and more retirees take up unique travel opportunities that retirees from past decades couldn’t begin to dream of.

Redefining the meaning of retirement is something we can look forward to with excitement and, in doing so, encourage others to do the same.

We’re looking at the changing meaning of retirement. How did it come about and does it still serve its purpose? Is traditional retirement keeping up with the positive trends in longevity? Many of the structures put in place to facilitate retirement are no longer able to serve us as well as they once did. Retirees are facing ever-changing global circumstances which affect the sense of security we once had about retirement. Our goals for retirement have changed vastly in the past three decades. No longer content with a few fallow years by the seaside our extended lifespan is allowing us greater ambitions for our third chapter. The meaning of retirement is changing and so are our needs for this time. It is up to each of us to redefine the terms of retirement and in doing so contribute to its meaning for society.

Our top 3 article picks this week:

A Brief History of Retirement: It’s a Modern Idea

The key to changing with the meaning of retirement

Our take:
Albeit an old article, this piece by the Seattle Times gives one of the more succinct historical accounts of the origin of retirement. And understanding the origin can help us to prepare for the future. We see from the piece that one of the biggest changes in retirement over time is the positive increase in longevity while retirement age has stayed relatively stagnant in many regions. How will this affect the future of retirement? Are we making enough adjustments to retirement institutions to account for these sociological changes? Please share your thoughts.

Article excerpt:
Work until you die — or until you can’t work anymore.

Until the late 19th century, that was the old-age plan for the bulk of the world’s workers.

Only in 1889 did German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduce modern pensions. Bismarck wasn’t really motivated by compassion for the plight of the working class. He wanted to pre-empt a growing socialist movement in Germany before it grew any more powerful.

The idea of providing financial security for the aged gradually caught on and expanded in Europe, the United States and other advanced economies. Now, as life expectancy reaches lengths Bismarck couldn’t have imagined and retirement lasts two or three decades, these countries are struggling with government pension plans they can no longer afford.

Now, governments are reversing those policies and raising retirement ages to prevent aging populations from breaking their budgets. And older people, who now enjoy better health, are working longer again
Click here to read the full article on

How Retirement has Changed Over The Last 30 Years

Social security and workplace pensions carried most of the burden

A graph symbolising the changes over the years in retirement

Our take:
If you’re curious to see how much retirement has changed in the past three decades this article by @marketwatch is a good summary of where we’ve come from, and where we might be going. It was written a few years before the pandemic and some of the shifts we’ve seen since but the closing statement remains relevant “Thirty years ago, retirement was mostly covered for you. Today, you need to plan for yourself.”

Article excerpt:
In 1985, retirees relied on Social Security for 65% of their income. People could almost live on their Social Security benefits alone.

Many people used to have pension plans that filled in the gaps left by Social Security. In the past, retirement was pretty much covered between Social Security and pensions for many people. That doesn’t apply anymore.

Thirty years ago, employers typically covered most health-care costs. Today, most retirees are responsible for their own health care. That’s a huge cost.

In 1985, men were expected to live 14 years past retirement age (65 years). Women were expected to live until 84—19 years after retirement. Today, men’s life expectancy is 91 and women’s is 94. That’s 26 and 29 years after the age of 65.

Thirty years ago, retirement was mostly covered for you. Today, you need to plan for yourself.
Click here to read the full article post on

Is This The End of Retirement as We Know it?

The ‘retirement ideal’ has been changing for years. Older people are increasingly unretiring, changing the shape of this life stage.

An elderly couple contemplating retirement

Our take:
This BBC Worklife piece looks at whether retirement will have relevance in the future given that it is an invented phase and not a natural life progression. Add to that the current economic trajectories and the work life shift that was accelerated by the pandemic and retirement becomes less practical for many people. It suggests flexible retirement as a possible solution.

Article excerpt:
The ‘retirement ideal’ has been changing for years. Older people are increasingly unretiring, changing the shape of this life stage.

Picture retirement in your head. It’s a laughing, grey-haired couple sipping piña coladas on a white sand beach; perhaps they’re getting some liquid courage for their sky dive later. Not a care in the world, their only responsibility is getting their grandchildren good gifts for their birthdays. It’s a beautiful fantasy – and for many retirees, present and future, it’s just that: a fantasy.

Whether that’s part-time, full-time or a side gig, people are increasingly expecting and needing to work past traditional retirement age – perhaps permanently reshaping our idea of what this life stage might look like.

While there are several factors behind retirees’ return to the workforce, it’s clear that concerns linked to the cost of living are currently a major motivator.

While returning to full-time employment may work for some older workers, other retirees are seeking more flexible employment.

Unhappiness in retirement is a well-documented issue. Silver, of the University of Toronto Scarborough, says retirement can be “an incredibly dissatisfying experience” for those whose personal and work identities are intertwined. She suggests the pandemic offered many people a preview of retirement – being with your partner all day, or alone all day, without the traditional structures of work – and that some people who traditionally would have retired by now realised the lifestyle didn’t appeal to them.

If current cost-of-living concerns ease, it’s possible that some older workers will no longer feel the need to be employed past retirement. But general trends – we’re living and working longer, and many of us aren’t saving adequate pension pots – suggest that ‘retirement’, for many, will include working in some form.

The shift to flexible work, however, could benefit both today’s retirees and also the younger workers lamented as the generations who will never be able to afford to retire. Before, the wealth gap between boomers and later generations might have meant many people toiling away at their desks well into their 70s.

But flexible working offers a new option – a different version of the beachy retirement fantasy. Last week, Llewellyn took a weekend trip to Corfu with a friend. “I was working for a few hours, but I was swimming, too,” she says.

This flexible version of retirement won’t be available to everyone, but it is an indicator of how the concept itself can and should evolve. “I think it’s really important to recognise that retirement is just a phase that was invented, it’s not a natural progression or an essential stage of life,” says Silver.
Click here to read the full article on

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Other highlights for the week:

Most Popular Daily Thought

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. – Anne Frank
We know that retirement is changing and we can change with it. We can also decide to define it for ourselves. The sooner we begin with our preparation and planning the sooner we contribute our definition of this life chapter for others to see and be in inspired by.
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Quote by Anne Frank – How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Weekly Question

Last week’s question:
Have you defined retirement in a unique way? Tell us about it.
Some of the responses we received:
• By working and being busy.
• A small cafe was started at my home after retirement. I am enjoying it beyond expectation.
• With retirement, we now have the time to travel. Last July we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
• I ask myself every morning “What’s the most fun I can have today?”
• I spend more time with family and give back to the community I live in.
This week’s questions:
In what way do you spend time that makes it feel like it stands still?
Click here to answer the question in our Facebook group


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Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.