Retirement can suddenly alter everything about a person’s daily life. One could put in their initial notice of retirement, be given a “We’ll Miss You!” sheet cake from Publix, and then find themselves watching midday reruns of The Golden Girls on TV Land in less than thirty-days. This swiftness only serves to make one of the most “disruptive events in an individual’s life” all the more difficult . For far too long, many have viewed retirement as an immediate “off-switch” to work; in actuality, it should be a gradual exit from the labor force. Flexible retirement revises the common conception of leaving the workforce to better serve the needs of both retirees and employers . Instead of an abrupt ending to a career, flexible retirement encourages businesses to allow older employees to gradually decrease their workload at a time of their choosing before fully exiting their careers. The end result is mutually beneficial: retirees are given ample time to acclimate to their new lifestyle, and companies retain valuable employees. This increasingly-more-common method of retirement can also serve as a reminder to Christian retirees of the importance of staying connected with others even after a full transition out of the workforce. Flexible retirement aims to overcome the current shortcomings of leaving the workforce to help all parties involved prepare for a worker’s final stage of life.
Those retiring from the workforce face a myriad of challenges: they must decide how they will allocate their time, how they will budget their finances for the long term, and what will drive them to get out of bed in the mornings. These are not questions which should be answered overnight, yet with the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been forced to confront them head-on as they unexpectedly retire from their careers . Researcher John Osbourne posits “potential retirees may need to develop a lifestyle and outlook that they would like to have in retirement before they make the transition, especially if their current outlook on life is pessimistic and produces little sense of well-being” . Flexible retirement’s decreased work hours grant soon-to-be retirees the time to arrange their affairs and consider their upcoming change in lifestyle. In addition, this new conception of retirement encourages a shift away from artificial milestones. In flexible retirement, workers are allowed to decide when they want to leave their careers; they are not shackled to quit their jobs at the common retirement age of 65.
Older Americans are also living longer than ever before, pushing them to want to remain in the labor force under certain conditions. A survey from Gallup Polling found 44% of workers would choose to stay in the workforce part-time once they hit retirement age; in the next largest cohort, only 22% of those surveyed said they wanted to quit working altogether at retirement age . Additionally, these aged workers typically continue to be valuable assets to the teams of which they are a part of. In another poll from AP-NORC, 45% of individuals felt older employees still produced good work, whereas only 21% felt retirement-age workers’ output was poor . Flexible retirement not only provides these older workers with the extended opportunity to keep doing what they love and excel at —it also grants companies time to fill their places. In the final stage of a laborer’s worklife, businesses can transition these retiring employees into mentorship positions where they can train up younger workers to continue the company’s work.
Though laborers and businesses both benefit in a flexible retirement system, decades of social reaffirmation and legislation upholding traditional retirement practices have slowed wide-scale adoption of the framework. In 2021, less than a quarter of American businesses offered any formal gradual retirement programs . Many companies struggle to find the balance between waning older employees off their work schedule and the rigid, age-based safety net systems which sustain retirees. For example, an employee may want to begin their transition out of the workplace in their late 50s, but individuals only qualify for the most minimal Social Security and Medicare benefits starting in their mid-60s. This leaves businesses engaged in a tricky balancing act: they must either contribute additional resources to accommodate the employees’ retirement wishes or risk ruining an employee’s morale by not aiding their gradual retirement. Companies in the past two years have been more willing to assist employees in flexible retirement plans to help clot an already-massive wave of “brain-drain.”
Some also speculate that the aging population’s desire to stay active in the workforce may not be received well by their fellow coworkers. The phrase “O.K. Boomer” encapsulates the frustration which some millennials and Gen-Z-ers hold against workers currently at retirement age. From declarations that the Baby Boomer generation “mortgaged the future” for their own gain to discontent at older generations’ conservative voting tendencies, many younger people have grown critical of the aging population . This is not to say that older Americans are in love with the culture of young Americans either — one need onlywatch any Tucker Carlson program for ten minutes to hear their gripes. But despite what the New York Times calls “the end of friendly generation relationships,” individuals within the labour force do not feel these generational gaps as drastically . Polling found that 46% of people believe that having older people in the workforce is a good thing for workplace culture; fewer than a quarter believed it to be negative for the work environment . While social and economic factors continue to guide the future of flexible retirement, the resounding consensus is that the system benefits all parties — retirees, companies, and coworkers alike.
To understand how flexible retirement fits into a Christian worldview, one must analyze the principles undergirding the system. Ultimately, flexible retirement encourages workers to stay in the workforce until they are ready to slowly leave; this contrasts the traditional view of retirement which typically removes workers from their careers at a predetermined date ordained by outside forces. Christians must stay engaged in conversation with the communities in which they live. Work remains among the premier ways to meet new people and interact with them. Jesus called his disciples to be a light in the community through their good works (Matthew 5:16). Paul and Peter both later reiterate that this mission can be completed through noble and upright daily work (Philippians 4:8, 1 Peter 4:10). For members of the community to accept and embrace Chrisitiany, they must see its fruits on display. Work provides exposure, and so it gives Christians a great opportunity to show the love of Jesus to their neighbors. Remaining in the workforce for all of one’s life is not an imperative from God, but remaining engaged with the community is (Matthew 28:19-20). Flexible retirement can reduce the strife a person faces as they transition from employment to full retirement, allowing them to stay focused on how they will continue in the mission of evangelism.
Today, retirement is advertised as a finish line, when in actuality, it should be considered the final segment of a lifelong marathon. Flexible retirement helps aging laborers ease out of their careers and into a full retirement through gradual decreases in workplace responsibilities. This grants soon-to-be retirees time to physically, mentally, and financially arrange for their upcoming lifestyle. Differing from the traditional conception of retirement which focuses on age as a cornerstone factor of retirement, flexible retirement returns the power to leave the workforce to the employee. These older workers continue to prove they are capable of maintaining their work output as well as positively contributing to the work environment. Employers also benefit from this revised system of retirement: they are granted additional time with highly-experienced workers who can use their last years in the workforce to train up the next generation. Flexible retirement provides a great opportunity to aging workers to remain engaged in the community and spread the good news of Christ. During their transition out of the workforce, older laborers can explore new ways to remain involved with the community even after they have fully left the workforce. Some might say America’s workforce is getting older — flexible retirement advocates would just say it’s getting better with age.
- https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969555.pdf , 49.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33711207/. // https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27001669/.