Retirement can be boring but working keeps you stimulated, say older workers
After working for two years in his substantial Gold Coast garden, Lawrence Waterman realised he found retirement extremely dull.
“It’s very hard looking for things to do and they are not there to do,” Mr Waterman said.
For decades he had worked in logistics and for transport companies, and as an active 72-year-old felt it would be a shame not to put his years of experience to good use.
Having found an employer who valued his skill and knowledge, Mr Waterman has now been working for several months as a pallet controller for Rocky Point, a family-run company that produces mulch and garden soil.
By all accounts, he is kicking goals.
His new employer said he has saved them thousands of dollars by introducing processes to keep track of their pallets, and by working with their customers to recover them.
“Lawrence has been really quite successful in his role,” said Vanessa Humphrey, a director at Rocky Point.
In Mr Waterman’s view, a less-experienced employee could not have achieved as much in the time.
“I understand pallets and I understand how to find pallets, how we can lose them and why we lose them,” said Mr Waterman.
He is one of a growing number of Australians who are both willing and able to stay in work beyond what we have traditionally thought of as “retirement age”
Like many countries around the world, Australia’s workforce is ageing: in 2006, 8 per cent of people over 65 were working, whereas last year it was 13 per cent.
Not all mature-age workers are as fortunate as Mr Waterman when looking for a job.
Over the past year, there has been a 38.72 per cent rise in the number of people over 65 looking for full-time work, but only an 11.12 per cent jump in those finding it.
One of the factors holding companies back from hiring older workers is the perception of a strict distinction between work and retirement, said Professor Carol Kulik, from the Centre for Workplace Excellence at the University of South Australia.
As she sees it, employers are missing out when they overlook mature job applicants, who tend to be the healthiest in their age group.
“Older workers actually are more loyal to organisations than younger workers are, they tend to stay with employers for a long time and they don’t take very many sick days,” Professor Kulik said.
Flexibility is not just for the young
That’s not to say that older workers should be expected to work in the same way as a 20-year-old.
One of Mr Waterman’s colleagues is 62-year-old Glenn Bressow, who plans to stay working as a farm hand as long as he is in good health.
He said his age — and the common sense that comes with it — have taught him when to take it easy.
“You climb down, you don’t jump down. Things like that,” he said.
It also helps that he has found an employer willing to allow him to work flexibly.
During the harvest, he is expected to work hard, and in the off season he can take time off, and he is not expected to finish tasks within a defined time frame.
“You just need to get the task done and done correctly, that’s all they ask of you here,” he said.
It is that work ethic and attention to detail which the managers at Rocky Point value in their older employees.
Driving around Rocky Point’s facility, between the mounds of compost and mulch, the voice of Adolf May can be heard over the radio pulling one of the younger operators into line for leaving a light on in his vehicle.
In a place like this, where machinery and vehicles are expensive assets, he is well-regarded for looking after his equipment meticulously, and for leaning on junior staff to do the same.
“We find that the attitude and professionalism and experience that mature age workers bring is just really valuable,” said Ms Humphrey.
Experience is the best teacher
Ageing brings with it unavoidable physical change. Professor Kulik says it also leads to psychological change, most notably that older people are more likely to consider their colleagues and to look for ways to give back.
“They might be very interested in things like mentoring opportunities or making sure that their jobs are really delivering value,” she said.
If older workers who are keen to stay in the workforce continue to be overlooked during the hiring process, those opportunities could be lost.
“Just imagine the wealth of knowledge that those people have, that we’re missing out on,” said Jo Stewart-Rattray, a cyber security expert who plans to stay in her consulting role until she is 70.
She points out that because people are living longer these days, many are staying on in the workforce so they don’t chew into their savings too soon.
That doesn’t necessarily mean people are having to work harder.
She notes that although we are working longer, we are now working smarter, thanks to advances in technology.
For some people, advances in technology are intimidating, but Ms Rattray-Stewart says it’s possible for people to move into the tech workforce later in life, as long as they are committed to learning new skills.
“I don’t think it’s as difficult as a lot of people would think,” she said.
Challenges and opportunities
Glenn Bressow sees the technological advances in the machinery he works with as a highlight of his job, and the challenge of learning to use new equipment is something that keeps him engaged.
The tractor he drives with GPS-controlled steering and automated functions is a far cry from what he drove in his early days in farming, and he loves working with what he describes as a “new toy”.
“There’s things that I thought I would never do, and now I’m doing it, I enjoy it and I’m keeping at it,” said Mr Bressow.
Cognitive stimulation is one of the key advantages older people get from staying in the workforce, along with financial stability and social contact, Professor Kulik said.
According to her research, unless they are putting in long hours, or are in stressful conditions, work helps to keep people healthy longer.
“And that means that older people are going to be less of a drain on other societal resources,” she said.
That could mean we need to rethink our understanding of careers, because it is unlikely that one profession will sustain a person into their 70s and beyond.
“Instead of thinking about what is the career I’m going to have, think about what’s the first career you’re going to have and then maybe around age 30, age 35 start thinking about what the next career might be,” Professor Kulik said.
It is Mr Waterman’s view that many people do not want to retire and are instead forced to retire because of their age.
He recommends that if a person wants to carry on working, they should find something that makes them happy and do that, no matter their age.
“If you want to be old you can be old. And if you don’t want to be old, you don’t have to be,” he said.
“That’s how I think of it.”.
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