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The owner of Physical Assets Inc. Johanne Tummon runs an online store and orders fitness equipment and organizes the installation for her clients. (Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
The owner of Physical Assets Inc. Johanne Tummon runs an online store and orders fitness equipment and organizes the installation for her clients. (Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

retirement

Getting past ageism and back to work after a late job loss Add to ...

When Johanne Tummon shut down her retail fitness-equipment business two years ago, it was a sad chapter in her life. She had spent 30 years building a client base for her Toronto store, Physical Assets, and she had a loyal cadre of employees who were almost like family.

“We rode out a couple of recessions,” she says. “Because we were such a small business we could just hunker down and get through it.” Then came 2008.

“That was hard,” says Ms. Tummon. “But we just sort of expected the next year to be better, or at least the year after that.”

Better never came. Finally, in 2013, she closed the doors.

Ms. Tummon was 60 at the time; an age at which many would consider retirement. But that wasn’t an option. She didn’t have the savings to sustain her lifestyle, even with CPP. “I always thought eventually I would be able to sell the store,” she says. “That was my retirement plan.”

After taking a few months off to consider her options, Ms. Tummon joined the 60 per cent of people over the age of 55 who are re-employed at some point within 10 years of leaving their long-term jobs, according to a 2014 Statistics Canada report. The younger the retiree, the higher the likelihood of re-employment, but even among those aged 60 to 64, 44 per cent return to work.

Although some work because they want the stimulation and sense of purpose it brings, many toil away simply because they need the money. In fact, the Statscan report notes that people without a registered pension plan through their workplace put in more years once rehired than those who had that workplace benefit.

That said, finding employment, particularly after the age of 55, isn’t easy in today’s sluggish economy. A report by The Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Society of British Columbia on ageism in the workplace finds myths about older workers abound. They’re often seen as less productive, more apt to take time off work due to illness and a poor investment because the assumption is they won’t “stay long in their positions.”

Research clearly shows those stereotypes are untrue, the CLE notes. And yet, Rick Richter, a partner and executive recruiter with Mandrake Management Consultants, affirms that placing (or even getting interviews for) workers over the age of 55 remains “challenging.”

Ms. Tummon can vouch for that: “When I closed the store, my plan was that I would just work for somebody else in a retail store close to home,” she says. “I’d get paid at the end of every week and somebody else could worry about the business.”

But interviews were scarce. Ms. Tummon believes some employers were concerned that she was older and had owned her own business. “I think there’s a perception that you’re going to be a know-it-all,” she says.

When she did get interviews, the pay was never more than $12 an hour. “It was a bit of an eye opener because I always paid our staff very well,” she says.

Mr. Richter tries to gently warn older job-seekers to be realistic in their employment expectations. “If you were a sales director, you might be offered a job a couple of rungs lower on the ladder,” he says. “And really, that makes sense. The other roles are typically given to people who are career-minded and in it for the long term.”

He suggests networking with your own contacts first. “The people who know you understand your talents and what you’re capable of,” he says. “It’s much better than being just another résumé on a desk, where the manager thinks, ‘Oh my gosh, he has 30 years’ experience. He’s probably deader than a doornail.’”

Finally, Mr. Richter advises, don’t rule out employment with smaller companies. “The jobs have greater scope, so they’re interesting,” he says. “And because they have greater scope, those companies need to hire people who are experienced. They can’t hire a young buck because he won’t be able to handle everything that needs to happen in that job.”

As for Ms. Tummon, she ultimately concluded “it made absolutely no sense working for somebody else for the kind of money they were paying.” In the meantime, though, she’d had great success selling off her remaining inventory of fitness equipment by contacting potential clients over the phone or the Internet.

That’s when Ms. Tummon realized that “what I can do best is the business that I was in – the fitness equipment business – but without the bricks-and-mortar store.” Now, when people contact her through her website or by phone, she assesses their equipment needs and makes recommendations. “If I have elderly clients who need hands-on help or if somebody is doing a fitness room, I can actually go there to see the space,” she says.

Then she orders the fitness equipment and organizes the installation. “It’s big, cumbersome, heavy equipment,” she says. “But I’ve been working with the same guy for 20 years. He does a great job and he can get it into people’s homes without damaging anything.”

The new business model enables Ms. Tummon to leverage her long-term relationships with suppliers and installers and offer more personalized service to her customers. Better still, she’s no longer locked into being at her store eight to 10 hours a day. “I have more freedom,” she says.

The key message for mature job-seekers, says Mr. Richter: Don’t lose faith. “Keep trying and be secure in the fact that you do have a good track record and a well-developed set of skills,” he says. “You do have something to contribute.”

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