Why Changing Course ‘Later’ in Your Career Life is Actually a Good Idea, Part 1
Recently, we co-authored an article about baby boomers and millennials, and how and why they do or don’t co-exist in the workplace. This article is actually an outgrowth of our prior research, as well as the lack of substantive research around the topic. Our research for this article leads us to rethink the ways that people ”pivot” in the second half of their careers. Full transparency: this is relevant because both of us fall into that category. We serve as good examples. Both of us previously held senior HR roles in the retail and marketing/sales industries. One of us is now in search at a major boutique search firm in New York, building a retail and consumer practice, and the other is a leadership consultant and executive coach using key skills finely tuned while acting as an inside consultant and HR leader. And though there are days we might think about returning to that senior HR executive space, we usually come to our senses and remember why we moved along and why we're quite content in our new “pivoted” situations.
Trends in the 50-Plus Work Group
As previously written in our article on millennials, decades continue to be characterized by how much “younger” we all are in an age where movement and evolution are key. Fifty is now the new 30, and 60 the new 40. Because the baby boomers and those just behind them live longer, are generally healthier and desire to work beyond 65 (once the mandatory retirement age), more senior individuals are filling more spots in the workplace, often reinventing themselves to fit a “new mold." Studies show that up to 80 percent of baby boomers continue to do some sort of paid work until at least age 70, thereby staying mentally sharp and keeping socially and professionally engaged. The current financial reality also assumes that while boomers live longer and are healthier, they also seek to maintain their lifestyle and, to do so, need additional income.
Numerous publications have attempted to address this issue over the past few years, seeking to make sense of the trend and how it might impact the workplace. In 2013, The New York Times did a piece covering several people who had reinvented themselves later in life. These individuals shared common traits: they were willing to take risks, they used past skills as leverage for new challenges, they used their networks to help in the transition, and they were creative.
Recently, USA Today also covered this change, arguing that people who make a career change later in life tend to be happier, healthier and, not surprisingly, more active than others who have opted to become retirees. In 2015, Money Magazine published an article that covered seven baby boomers who reinvented their careers with considerable success and happiness. The consistent theme each article focused on was creativity and keeping the brain active. Would-be retirees were remaining in the workplace, and retirement as a concept became outmoded as reinvention took its place. Pivoting, or turning quickly in another direction, became the relaxation and the fun for this growing group.
All of this leads to the not surprising fact that people who stay active in the workplace for longer periods tend to be happier and more productive. Research supports this point of view. However, a key component that must be recognized is that these people are happier if they're in jobs that they like and believe are contributing to society in some way and not simply the fact that they're employed. Be a Wal-Mart greeter, but do it because of the social and interpersonal component. Start a new business because a gap is recognized or an opportunity arises.
An example discussed in the 2015 Money Magazine article talks about a 57-year-old sales manager in a real estate firm who became increasingly discontented and struggled to do the job she had done for a number of years. At the same time while at home, her washing machine stopped working and she had to visit a laundromat. Appalled by the conditions she found, she decided to launch a chain of cleaner, more energy-efficient laundromats and sought to focus on a younger demographic. Opening Wash Day, the business clearly filled a need in the community. After its first year, this woman and her partner opened two additional facilities. They're looking to further expansion and neither has plans for a traditional retirement.
One of our colleagues was a successful sales manager at Xerox for many years until one of the many restructuring efforts ended his career with the company. Instead of retiring in his 50s or looking for another sales job, he decided to work with the local public school district. Asked to drive a bus (they were short of qualified drivers due to budget cuts), he agreed. Asked why he enjoyed the work, he stated that he had never been happier and he was “mentoring and protecting the next generation.”
Similarly, a retail executive who worked for the same company from the age of 15 to 46 in both management and corporate positions was terminated in a company downsizing. She decided to use the skills that helped her to become a successful executive to develop an idea for a card that could be used to track and simplify discounts on health care expenses given to workers. The company, freshbenies, later expanded its services and in 2013, had revenue of $1.3 million. By 2016, the revenues tripled. A simple reallocation of skills with a mix of creative thinking.