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on the job

John Crawford never considered retirement when he reached 65.

When he joined a consulting firm as a partner at the age of 60, he specified that he wouldn't have to retire until he was 70. When that milestone arrived, a U.S. company had just bought the firm and he persuaded them to keep him on for a couple more years.

Now, at 78, the industrial psychologist still works regularly, running his own Toronto-based testing and consulting firm, John D. Crawford, Inc. "It's absolutely by choice. If you told me I had to retire next year, I would probably have some sort of panic attack," he said.

He's not alone. Much has been written about the fact that financial necessity is making Canadians decide to stay in the work force past the traditional retirement age of 65.

But there's also a growing grey market of seniors who are choosing to recommit to their careers in their 60s and 70s.

Older workers have dominated recent gains in the Canadian labour market. While they account for only 8 per cent of the total work force, people aged 60 and over have accounted for about a third of all net job gains – about 200,000 – since the economic recovery began in mid-2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Over the past two years, employment for people older than 70 is up by 55,000 positions, a 37-per-cent increase.

And a survey by Sun Life Financial found that only 30 per cent of Canadians plan to be fully retired by 66, with 48 per cent saying they plan to work part-time or freelance after they retire from their full-time jobs.

The person's mind set and the quality of the job have a lot to do with their desire to keep working and the satisfaction they obtain from it, Mr. Crawford said.

In his work as a workplace psychologist, he said, he has found that "job satisfaction is normally distributed: You have people on one end of the curve who hate what they do and at the other extreme those who love what they do."

For the vast majority in the middle, who say they work mainly because it keeps a roof over their head, there are benefits in a routine and a sense of identity, which men in particular often find they lose at retirement, he said.

Mr. Crawford recalled the revelation he had when he and his wife bought a house in the southern United States a decade ago with plans to retire there. "When we went to the cocktail parties, men who were long retired would continue to talk about their former job and many of their wives still identified vicariously through their husband's former role."

However, staying in for the long haul should be about more than continuing to punch the clock, said Jan Hein Bax, president of recruiter Randstad Canada.

Older employees who plan to stay on the job past the normal retirement age should continue to look for opportunities to grow and develop, otherwise working longer will feel like a burden, he said. "As an experienced worker, there can be great satisfaction in finding ways to share your knowledge and mentoring younger people, which will in turn make you more valuable to the organization."

At the same time, older workers should also pay attention to developing activities they enjoy outside of work, "because when work finally does end, people who have made work their life can feel lost," Mr. Bax advised.

"Ideally, you should make it a goal to start to pull back from the job gradually, so you aren't spending as much time on it and develop outside interests that can involve you when you finally do retire," he said.

Employers, meanwhile, should encourage older employees to stay involved in the organization, said Kevin Sheridan, senior vice-president of Avatar HR Solutions in Chicago and author of Building a Magnetic Culture.

"In our research, we're finding that employers are developing a lot of age-friendly programs that provide flexibility in work schedules," he said.

"Many are seeing the risk of losing large numbers of experienced employees if baby boomers retired en masse," he said, so companies are encouraging older workers to stay on longer. Some also encourage those who have already retired to come back in some capacity.

Surveys of U.S. and Canadian organizations that Mr. Sheridan did for his book also showed that employers find those who stay in the work force voluntarily tend to be most engaged and excited about their work if given challenging assignments.

"It's not all about the money – the older workers who voluntarily seek out work are primarily interested in contributing and driving their company's success. They also want to have a legacy, so employers report a lot of success assigning older workers to mentor younger workers," he said.

Of all the factors the veteran employees say motivates them, the top one is "My job gives me an opportunity to do things I do the best," Mr. Sheridan said.

Mr. Crawford, for one, has found a happy balance between easing back and staying active in his profession.

"At 65, I stepped back from being in charge and I got other people in the firm to take on more of the 'administrivia,' the actual day-to-day stuff of running the business. I found it a great relief to get rid of that," he said.

Like many before him, he has discovered that a key factor in feeling good about work is to have a life beyond it. "Even if it's square dancing or cooking, you need to have something you can transition into and do more of. If you don't have an outside interest, it's difficult to replace the hours and the intensity [of work]with anything else," Mr. Crawford said.

"I did in a sense slow down – I play six hours of tennis a week, play golf in the summer and ski in the winter. I do enough work that my grey cells don't start weakening. And I never think about getting old."

Top 10 factors that keep older employees engaged in their work:

  • My job gives me an opportunity to do the things I do best.
  • My supervisor regularly gives me feedback on my work performance.
  • I feel the senior management of the organization is concerned about the employees.
  • This organization makes it possible for employees to directly contribute to its success.
  • I know what is expected of me in my job.
  • I have an opportunity to participate in decisions made by my supervisor that affect my work environment.
  • My co-workers are friendly and helpful.
  • My supervisor encourages my career growth.
  • The necessary materials and equipment are available when I need to perform my job.
  • Employees of this company genuinely care about the customers.

Source: Survey by HR Solutions International Research Institute