Retirement comes from the French word meaning “to isolate yourself.” But as our guest Chris Farrell puts it: “Who wants to be isolated?”

More and more, we are seeing older workers continue in the workforce or return to it. So what does this mean for our concept of retirement? Farrell joined us to break things down, and he shared with us some surprising statistics about the relationship between older and younger workers. Farrell is the senior economics contributor to the public radio program Marketplace and also the author of five books on personal finance in the economy. We’re very happy he didn’t isolate himself from us!

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

A New Way of Thinking About Retirement

The traditional idea of retiring at 65 seems to be going by the wayside. However, this may actually have positive benefits for mental health. “One of the things that the research is starting to show is that work can be good for your brain,” says Farrell. Work doesn’t just provide personal purpose, but also a sense of community. Even just gossiping while waiting in line for the Keurig machine engages our brain in healthy ways — not to mention the fact that work does require you to use your brain for the actual work you have to do.

Of course, older workers have plenty of experience for their positions. But they can also offer something else: creativity. It’s a spark Farrell says never goes away. “If you’re creative in your 20s, that creativity will be there in your later years,” he points out. Farrell uses the Oscars as an example. Think about the ages of the nominees. There’s a reason older artists often win awards — they are able to blend the lessons learned from years of practice with their creative energy, resulting in engaging pieces of work.

The Relationship Between Older and Younger Workers

With our current tight labor market, looking to nontraditional employees is more important than ever. But we often think of older workers as at odds with younger ones. The thinking goes that since older workers are more experienced, they’ll prevent younger workers from advancing in their careers.

This is a line of thinking that Farrell calls “fundamentally wrong.” He explains that younger and older workers are actually seeking completely different goals in their careers. While younger workers are studying the organizational depth chart, older workers are typically planning that next chapter. “You still want to work,” Farrell explains. However, “you probably don’t want to stay on the job for another 10.” They may have eyes on switching careers or entering a different segment of the economy — in other words, embracing a new challenge.

Also, studies have actually shown that when workers in their 20s are doing well, older ones do well, too — and vice versa. Additionally, older workers provide a mentorship role to younger workers, who also can teach their counterparts about this dadgum new technology they keep hearing about.

The Industries That Already Get It

Farrell notes that two industries are already successfully incorporating older workers — and offer lessons for those not just trying to navigate the tight labor market, but also looking for the value older workers can bring.

Surprisingly, one of the industries Farrell notes is manufacturing, which has an older-than-average workforce. Farrell recently visited Herman Miller in Zeeland, Michigan, and was especially impressed by one of the company’s programs. The company offers workers the opportunity to take 12 consecutive weeks off. Though workers are not paid during this time, they keep their retirement benefits, health care and years of service. Many of those who take advantage of the program are over 50. According to Farrell, the employees use the time to address family issues, set up a side business, or simply work on a personal project.

The second industry is healthcare. Many hospitals offer part time employment to doctors and nurses, providing the opportunity for older workers to get the psychological benefits of work — and for patients to reap the enormous benefits of an older employee’s years of experience.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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