There are many of us over 55 who have left long term employment whether out of choice or as a result of being unexpectedly released from our responsibilities. Retirement is taking on a new meaning and it isn’t anywhere near the same experience as our parents. Many of us aren’t ready to stop working either from a sense of wanting to remain active and maintain a sense of purpose to the need for an income. For many there’s an underlying fear around what else would I do?
A friend, Vicki, found herself facing retirement from a successful career the summer of 2016 at age 67. The first few months were an adjustment and she soon became bored – even after joining the local learn to play bridge and tai chi classes. Her children were grown, had families of their own and lived outside the city. The more time she had on her hands the more she became focused on what was missing in her life. Then panic set in around her financial affairs. She didn’t like dipping into her savings.
The fear ignited a new determination to find a job to create cash flow. Vicki networked and uncovered some contract jobs in her field of expertise but none of the opportunities panned out. Although she’s in good health and mentally sharp as a tack, she has some mobility challenges so needs a position that allows her to work sitting down.
It was unsettling to move from being busy with a steady income to being in a constant state of anxiety. Daily visits to websites with job postings uncovered a number of call centre contract positions. Although not ideal, she took the plunge and landed a four month call centre contract that was close to home. It proved to be an eye-opening experience. As she said “I took this job out of desperation after seven months of retirement when I started spiraling into a black hole so I was grateful to have somewhere to go each day.”
To her credit she adapted to clocking in and out, earning an hourly wage, and sitting in a cubicle talking on the phone all day. She found that her pay wasn’t always accurate (never in her favour), that training was limited (non-existent after the first day), and expectations on results were high. She fondly referred to it as a ‘sweat shop’.
Three months later she sent an email blast to a group of friends sharing she was about to resign. “So for the second time in less than a year, I’m retired……again. That was 10 weeks of my life, I’ll never get back and I’m trying to find the lesson I learned but right now, I can’t.”
After a few weeks of reflection, and might I add, while enjoying a refreshing alcoholic beverage, she was able to summarize the positives and ‘aha’ moments she’d taken away from the experience.
The first lesson was that ‘doing hourly work is not beneath me’. Secondly ‘I became attached to people who I wouldn’t normally have associated with in a personal or work environment. Their life journeys astounded me and they began to see me as a mentor and friend.’ She listened to their stories and by example, championed them to empower themselves. ‘I would constantly preach to these kids the importance of saving money for retirement and how investing in RRSP’s can positively affect their income tax. Yes, I even gave advice on their love lives.” Lastly ‘I enjoyed chatting with customers across Canada.’ She made new phone friends and found that although her background wasn’t ‘sales’ she was a natural at phone sales.
Although her co-workers were grateful for her knowledge, wisdom and support, the company wasn’t engaged. “In my 35+ years of working, I always tried to show loyalty and respect for my immediate supervisors and the company I worked for. All I asked in return was the same respect and loyalty. It became painfully obvious that this company was intentionally cheating employees out of time worked. I raised the issue many times with my immediate supervisor and then finally to his manager. If they were cheating me, they had to be cheating everyone else. But they did it subtlety. A few minutes from each person would result in huge savings for the company.“
Vicki was once again looking for employment but with a different approach. The call centre experience had empowered and energized her. She wrote out a job wish list that included – a part time position that didn’t require a high degree of physicality, allowed her to interact with the public and most importantly having an employer who truly valued their employees. Within six months, through her personal network, she found that role and with it a steady income. Three days a week she spends 4-6 hours at a successful local catering company, in an inside sales role. She is, once again, mentoring the younger outside sales reps and loving it. Her employer has the benefit of her sales skills and is thrilled with the support she gives the team. It has allowed him to focus on other aspects of growing the business. As she shared, ‘I wrote down everything I wanted in a position and this one checks all the boxes plus I get delicious lunches!’
When one door closed another one opened, and then another one. As an added bonus she’s enjoying a new sense of empowerment at a time when she’d begun to believe that her earning power was slipping away. Cheers to the upside of aging!