As the workforce ages, career counselors will increasingly be working with older workers, especially adults who work during retirement. Career counseling can now extend to a client’s retirement. Some individuals do take the traditional retirement route (i.e., move from full-time work to full-time leisure), but a substantial number of older Americans remain in the labor force after they leave their career jobs. Labor and employment economists have found that by age 60, more than half of all persons have left their career jobs, but only one in nine is fully retired. These individuals who have retired but have not left the workforce take jobs, known as bridge employment, that act as a transition between long-term career positions and total retirement. Bridge employment often involves a combination of fewer hours, less stress or responsibility, greater flexibility, self-employment, and fewer physical demands.
According to the U.S. Administration on Aging recent statistics, Americans are living longer and healthier lives. People who live to age 65 can expect to survive beyond this average (19.4 years of age for a female and 16.4 years for a male). Will these adults have sufficient resources to live comfortably these many more years? Bridge employment contributes to older adults’ economic security by providing additional income. In addition, bridge employment contributes to an adult’s emotional well-being. Adults who work in bridge jobs report they feel better about themselves both physically and emotionally, have more balanced lives, and enjoy the work they are doing. They view their bridge jobs as the opportunity to do something meaningful in their lives and to assert control of their work (i.e., task assignment, time, and flexibility), which they may not have experienced in their long-term careers. Older workers are more likely to retire into bridge jobs that are similar to their long-term careers (i.e., within same environment or using similar skills), because they like being connected with the work they had done previously. Some adults like the fact that their bridge jobs allow them to focus on what they love doing and not worry about the promotion career ladder.
When older adults switch to their bridge jobs, even to jobs within their career fields, they may experience different levels of difficulty. Possible barriers include watching their jobs disappear due to technology advances, experiencing age discrimination, questioning their ability to learn, or not knowing how to do a job search. Many adults who have mapped out long-term career paths and planned their financial futures fail to plan their next career step in retirement. They do not anticipate certain consequences of the transition, such as changing their work roles (e.g., from supervisor to worker), adjusting to new environments, going back to school, or dealing with the expectations of family and friends.
Regardless of the many challenges, most older workers are able to successfully move into bridge jobs without any career assistance. They rely on their past life experiences and skills to handle the transition. However, a significant number of retirees struggle to find a niche in retirement. They are overwhelmed with the job search process, which is new to them; discouraged with their unmet expectations; and frustrated with the limited opportunities that offer both flexibility and challenging work. Those who persevere through two or three different bridge jobs often eventually find satisfaction in their new career efforts.
Career counselors can play an instrumental role in helping individuals make this transition more easily. Unfortunately, older adults are less likely to take advantage of career counseling services, such as seeking out help from a career counselor, attending a career development workshop, joining a support group, or reviewing career/job resources (i.e., publications and Internet). Many older adults see themselves as their own transition resources. Therefore, the career counseling community must reach out to this demographic group and promote the benefits of career counseling for adults who plan to work in retirement. Possible promotion strategies include connecting with financial planners, human resource managers who are responsible for employee retirement benefits, and the aging network (e.g., Area Offices on Aging, Title V Programs).
In making the decision to work in retirement, most older adults want to work, but only on their terms, which encompass two factors: (a) asserting control (e.g., how they work, whom they work with, what they work on, where they work) and (b) doing something meaningful (e.g., impact on their own development, family, community, or society). As these two factors have different meanings for individuals, counselors need to help their clients identify and clarify these conditions. Counselors must consider their older clients as individuals and avoid grouping them indiscriminately into one category, and they must also be aware of the unique issues faced by older workers, especially age discrimination. In this regard, counselors should become familiar with the different forms of age discrimination; understand the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), including the law’s scope and older workers’ legal rights; and refer clients who feel they have experienced age discrimination to the appropriate resource. Older adults have lengthy work histories, which have given them opportunities to acquire an extensive array of skills and experiences, and career counselors must help clients sort out and assess their preferred activities, especially their functional skills and interests. As there is a good likelihood that older workers have not done recent job searches, counselors must coach their clients on the entire process, including networking, using the Internet, developing resumes, and preparing for interviews.
Work has redefined retirement. More and more older adults are recognizing that bridge employment is a viable choice for their retirement. Eighty percent of baby boomers plan to work in retirement, which means the trend of older workers retiring to bridge jobs will not be going away. Career counselors can be an integral part of this trend by recognizing that their role does not end at a client’s retirement but extends for many more years.
- Administration on Aging. 2003. “Profile of Older Americans: 2003.” Retrieved March 24, 2015 (http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/profile_2003.pdf).
- American Association of Retired Persons. 2004. “Baby Boomers Envision Retirement II—Key Findings.” Retrieved March 24, 2015 (http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/econ/boomers_envision_1.pdf).
- Quinn, J. 2000. “New Paths to Retirement.” Pp. 13-32 in Forecasting Retirement Needs and Retirement Wealth, edited by O. Mitchell, B. Hammond and A. Rappaport. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Ruhm, C. 1990. “Determinants of the Timing of Retirement.” Pp. 23-32 in Bridges to Retirement: Older Workers in a Changing Labor Market, edited by P. B. Doeringer. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.
- Ulrich, L. B. 2003. “Bridge Employment and Older Workers: An Exploratory Study.” PhD dissertation, Counselor Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.
- Weckerle, J. R. and Shultz, K. S. 2000. “Influences on the Bridge Employment Decision among Older USA Workers.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 72:317-329.