Why Some People Choose Work Over Retirement

Retirement Why Some Retirees Keep Working

When Denny Jensen retired at age 64 from his job as a senior vice president of product development at Visa International in 2004, he expected a long and satisfying retirement. He and his wife moved from Silicon Valley to Sparks, Nev., outside of Lake Tahoe, and planned on boating, playing golf and relaxing.

Instead Jensen found stopping work stultifying. He spent too much time "sitting around with nothing to do. I missed the challenge of working with highly skilled people and making something happen," he says. Volunteering didn't do it for him. Eventually he acquired a business to stay energized and generate some income.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that in 1991 only 11 percent of workers anticipated working beyond age 65, but that number increased to 36 percent by 2013. Some seniors consider working more satisfying than lounging by the pool, striking golf balls or taking cruises.

Reasons why people keep working

Many retirees prepare financially but not emotionally for retirement, says Certified Financial Planner professional Mark Singer, author of "The Changing Landscape of Retirement." Retirees must occupy themselves for an extra 45 to 50 hours weekly and spend extended time with their spouse. He says the critical question to answer is, "What replaces the passion for work when you retire?"

Though he's 84 years old and has enough money to retire, Stephen Pollan, a life coach and author of "Die Broke: A Radical Four-Part Financial Plan," keeps returning to his office. Retirement holds no appeal to him.

Pollan sees opting to stay on the job beyond 65 as a healthy trend. Working longer keeps people vigorous and alert and minimizes depression. "Working represents having a purpose or goal. Leisure is lethal. You don't keep a purpose in your life by floating on a raft," he says.

Staying in a job strengthens a person's psychological well-being, says Nancy Schlossberg, a psychologist and author of "Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life."

"For most people, their identity is tied to their job," Schlossberg says. "Often, changing careers later in life, like a journalist who writes a novel, can also be life-affirming."

Many people consider retirement an extended vacation, "but vacations are only fun because we have work to return to," says Jacquelyn James, co-director of research at The Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. "With retirement, there's nothing to go back to."

For many people who keep working, work centers their life. It offers "structure for the day, a social network and feeling needed," James says. "Retirees need to replace those motivators with a blend of part-time work, volunteer activities or civic engagement and leisure activities."

Making the transition

James recommends people test retirement before plunging full-time into it. Many companies have introduced phased-in retirement options, where staff cuts back to work three days a week, followed by two days. Before retiring, "Pay attention to what gives you the most pleasure," she says. "Add variety in your activities because what you do every day can turn into drudgery, even in retirement."

People who wrap their identities in work often face the most problems letting go of it, James adds. Academics may retire but stay active by researching and writing in their field. When people retire and stop working, they must make psychological adjustments. A roofer who collaborated on a crew for 20 years and anticipated seeing his fellow co-workers every day must replace those social connections or suffer isolation.

"Retiring shifts personal relationships. The roofer has to attend community or church groups or volunteer to replace work relationships," Schlossberg says.

Laborers who envisioned stopping work but can't must "shift focus and reshape their dream," Schlossberg says. She recommends they incorporate a small piece of that dream into their everyday lives, such as playing tennis in the morning or painting at night.

1 man's journey

As Jensen found retirement to be ultimately unsatisfying, he had an epiphany while vacationing in Maui in 2011. It led him to research owning a business. "This could be an adventure," he thought.

Returning home, Jensen hired a franchise broker and in 2013 acquired Molly Maid, a cleaning franchise, with a $200,000 loan. Jensen, now in his 70s, enters the office daily at 7:30 a.m. and leaves around 5:30 p.m. He's energized by interacting with his employees, likes earning money, and is focused on improving quality, retaining customers and marketing the business.

After running it for just six months, business spiked by 23 percent. If it continues to prosper, Jensen says he's considering hiring an office manager next year. Then he'll take off a couple of days a week and combine running the business with taking it easy.

Jensen says the key lesson he learned is, "Don't retire too early. In hindsight, I should have worked an additional four years."

Schlossberg says that for those who need to keep working, finding an encore career in retirement can be richly satisfying. "If your psychological portfolio is intact, you've re-established your identity, recast your relationships and developed a new sense of purpose, you'll be OK." She urges seniors to "pay as much attention to your psychological health as your financial portfolio."

Copyright 2013, Bankrate Inc.