Older Workers working longer

According to Statistics SA’s Mid-year population estimates for 2011, more than 5-million South Africans in their 50s and early 60s will reach retirement age in the next few years. In addition, about 1,7-million South Africans in their 60s and early 70s have already passed the retirement age of 65. Many of these 6,7-million people are still healthy, active members of society who wish to still work in some form or another after 65. While it is difficult to know exactly how many South Africans over 65 are still engaged in work activities, what we do know is that more than half of South Africans in the 50s and 60s desire to go on working past their formal retirement age.

These local statistics form part of a worldwide trend seeing older workers continuing to work into their 60s and 70s, and the raising of pension ages in many developed nations to at least 65 or above. Changes in the world economy away from 8-5 full-time employment are making it easier for people to continue working, but on their own terms. Also, growing global skills shortages mean that employers are willing to negotiate with older workers in order to still have access to their valuable skills beyond retirement.

Retirees themselves are also keen to remain involved in the economy for longer. Today’s Baby Boomer generation in their 50s and 60s are healthy and active, not wanting to spend the next 30 years in retirement. Many Baby Boomers have second or third marriages and large extended families with many dependents still to take care of, encouraging them to continue working as long as possible. A lack of sufficient retirement funding is also pressurising aging Boomers to work longer in order to save up sufficient revenues for what could be a 30 year retirement span. Statistics also show that people who remain active and mentally stimulated into their later years generally remain healthier for longer, further providing motivation for continued work in some form beyond 60.

With at least about 3,3-million South Africans wanting to work beyond retirement age, and the South African economy in need of the experience and skills of older workers, the challenge remains how to partner older workers with the sectors of the local economy where they can still add value and made a difference long term. The reality is that not all organisations are going to want to hold onto older workers beyond retirement age but there are many other options available to older workers who are willing to investigate and pursue the possibilities.

These might involve discussing options with your employer such as decreased work hours, working flexi-time or fewer days with a cut in pay. You might need to up-skill yourself in order to update your skills and make you more marketable in your older years. Volunteer work, consulting, coaching and advisory services are all ways that you could still add value to your industry and community in your older years.

South Africa, with its unique set of social challenges, including unemployment, poverty and inequality, mean that there is always a need for community leaders, volunteers and problem solvers to make a difference. Making a difference can also be one of the most meaningful things to fill your time with in your later years, putting your experience and talents to good use.

So however you look at it, there is a large pool of 6,7 million South Africans who have either recently retired or will soon be reaching retirement age who are willing and able to continue contributing, either formally, or informally, to the economy and country. South Africa needs their input and more than half of this group wants to continue working after 60. Government, business, local communities and retirees need to work together to adequately partner older workers with where they can add value until full retirement at 75 or 80.