By Marie Fricker
When Bill Brokamp, 69, retired from his 30-year career as an orthopedic sales consultant, he thought he’d love the life of leisure he had always envisioned. He didn’t. In August, he returned to his company on a part-time basis and is once again consulting with surgeons on the use of his firm’s joint reconstruction implants for knees, hips, and shoulders.
“When I stopped working, I had no real plan for the future,” said Brokamp, a Scituate resident who grew up in Chicago and lived in St. Thomas for 10 years. “So, I bought a small boat and my wife and I spent a lot of time out on it in the summer. But the winter did me in. I’m not one to putter around the house or watch daytime TV. I’m a much happier guy since I went back to work.”
Whether it is to make ends meet during this inflationary economy or to fill a social void, increasing numbers of baby boomers are opting to keep working long past traditional retirement age.
Dr. Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at MIT, writes a longevity and generational trends blog for Forbes Magazine. In his September article, “Not Quietly Quitting But Quietly Returning, Older Workers Are Changing Work And Retirement,” Coughlin says that more retirees than ever are coming back to their jobs post-pandemic. “Why,” he asks, “would people who have worked for decades and achieved what has been sold as nirvana, a.k.a. retirement, come back to work?”
The reasons are varied, according to a Joblist study cited in the Forbes story—27 percent of the retirees surveyed said they went back to work because they needed the money; another 21 percent feared that inflation prices would quickly erode their nest egg, but a full 60 percent of respondents said they were simply “looking for something to do.”
Coughlin believes the “fire drill” of baby boomers leaving their posts during the Covid-19 shutdown caused many people to discover they were not ready for unstructured days, weeks, and years, “no matter how long their ‘to do’ list was for retirement.”
Kevin Harrington, CEO of Joblist, feels the return of older people to the workforce after the pandemic will be a boon to businesses. “Retirees are an overlooked talent pool that companies can and should engage,” said Harrington. “They are especially needed in these times of serious labor shortages.”
Senior workers are familiar sights at stores like Whole Foods, Macy’s, Talbots and Kohls, and retail hiring managers generally welcome them aboard. But this is not the case in much of the corporate world, where “ageism” in the workforce still abounds.
“It came to the point where I was the oldest employee in my building,” said Evelyn L. of Weymouth, who had worked for her South Shore insurance firm for more than 25 years. One by one, my older colleagues were laid off or terminated, and then it happened to me. Having to look for a job as a senior is a pretty scary proposition. How do you prepare for an interview with a recruiter who’s the same age as your grandson?”
Deborah (Buckley) Hope, is a former investment banker, a Master career counseling coach, and the facilitator of the Mass. Library Collaborative 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group, an online program to help seniors search for “second act careers.”
“I’m thrilled to say that 100 people have landed jobs in their chosen fields since our first session in 2019,” said Hope, who credits her co-facilitator, Tewksbury librarian Robert Hayes, for garnering financial support for her program from 62 libraries throughout the state. “Our members learn how to create a Linkedin profile (the cyber version of a rolodex), write a resume, devise a dynamic “career story” pitch, and gain a state-of-the-art job search toolkit.”
For workshop graduate Charlene Neu, 62, of Milton, Hope’s networking group was the launchpad to two new careers. “I took the classes after getting laid off from my job on a Covid task force for Partners in Health,” said Neu, who is a gerontologist. “The zoom sessions helped me trade information and get tips for job search techniques that I might never have thought of. And I ended up getting two new positions—I’m a swimming instructor at the Jewish Community Center in Newton and a career coach for the Jewish Vocational Service. The 50+ workshop was a huge benefit to me.”
Many people who come to Hope’s networking groups are angry and grieving the loss of their previous employment. “It’s not easy at the holiday table when relatives start asking you why you haven’t gotten another job yet,” said Hope. “But by the end of our sessions, they know the value of their skills and experience and believe in our motto—‘Your age is your edge.’”
Most studies show that retirees are healthier and happier when they have a sense of purpose and the camaraderie that comes with working or volunteering outside the home. And money isn’t always the prime motivator. For many seniors, mortgages and college tuition bills are no longer burdens, and flexibility in a job may be more important than salary.
Retired Verizon employee and U.S. Air Force Veteran Bill Sims of Norwell, has had several reincarnations of his career, and, at 78, he heads the board of trustees for his condo association, volunteers at the election polls, serves as a census taker, and works as a substitute teacher at his grandson’s elementary school.
“I retired at age 54 with a ‘golden parachute’ from Verizon, and was out of work for a few weeks,” said Sims, who met his wife Sandy on an online dating site in 2003. “My friend offered me a position in the IT department at Bank of Boston and I stayed there for the next 10 years. When we moved to Florida, I renovated a house and worked as a real estate appraiser in my mid-sixties. I guess I’ve never been one to sit around. During my longest retirement—which was two weeks—I cut my lawn three times.”
For more information on the Mass. Library Collaborative 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group, contact Robert Hayes at email@example.com or call 978-640-4490, ext. 205. South Shore sponsors include Scituate, Cohasset, Milton, and Plymouth public libraries.
The curriculum for the 50+ jobseekers workshop was created by Susan Drevitch Kelly in 2015 with funding from the Office of Elder Affairs.