Taking Down Barriers: Retirees Can Do Anything
By Karen and Erica
In the course of our work for Lustre, we have been meeting many women like us who are retiring. Some are happy never to work again. Others, like us, feel differently. We loved being part of the working world and want to remain there, maybe just not in the same consuming way we were before. Why is that more complicated than it should be?
There are, of course, resources to help retired people and non-profits find each other, like Encore and ReServe for those who qualify, certain local government websites, and AARP. But here we want to talk about the business world. So far as we know, very few for-profit organizations, and no larger ones, have figured out an institutional way to profit from having people on their payrolls who have retired from lengthy careers. Instead, people see barriers. None should be insurmountable if business takes advantage of new and different ways to engage us.
A first barrier: enterprises may fear that having a retired person on the payroll will turn out to be a terminal drag. What happens when we can no longer perform at the highest level? Putting aside legal issues, the simple answer is the freelance/independent contractor economy. Have a look at the "labor cloud." Hire us for a certain time or project.
It might also be an image problem. Employers might reflexively assume that because we no longer have full time jobs, we don’t want to do anything too taxing any more. That’s wrong--even if we worked much more flexibly than we have for several decades, we would work hard and add value. To make that clear, it is one of Lustre’s primary objectives to make us visible as we are and give us a new image.
Third, as the first large group of retired career women, we are newbies. Only now are we showing up on the radar screen. Nobody prepared for us, including us--we were working too hard. That means we must now create our own future. Something new and different. We hope this conversation will be a start.
Finally, organizations have structure, and that structure seldom includes a place for a senior person who is not central to the core establishment, but is rather adjacent to it. Someone who is no threat to anyone, but also not answerable in the same way as an employee might be. Someone who will not participate in all parts of the organization’s life, but only in certain bits, and perhaps only for a time. Someone who must be trusted to scope out the organization quickly, but from the outside, in order to provide value. And someone who can be of tremendous institutional value. Let's call her a post-career woman.
This is our focus. Can industry be convinced to hire post-career women? We think so. If businesses see us as the vibrant and engaged women we are, they will want to have us around. The freelance economy has created new employment models that suit us well. Businesses get what they want, and so do we. Most importantly, if we all think about new ways to deploy this population, we ensure that it is a national asset, not a national liability.
At least one small business gets it. Dara Kaplan and Gwen Wunderlich, the founders of a NY PR firm, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications, prefer to hire older women: "There is so much knowledge that this segment of women hold. People are forgetting that just because you do not tweet does not mean you don't know what's up.....We believe that our society and workforce are missing out by just catering to my generation."