Being a “tweener” is no fun. I define a tweener as a man over 50 who finds himself in that strange transitional role somewhere between full-time work and anticipated retirement. Many of us have come to the uncomfortable realization that we will need to work longer than we may have thought simply because we won’t be able to afford “retirement.” Even if you’ve managed to save enough and you feel financially secure, you may want to continue to work to feel fulfilled.
Men in their 50s are often faced with this kind of dilemma, either because they are summarily dismissed from the full-time job they had for decades, or they tire of it and want a new challenge. The fundamental problem in our society is people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are thrown on the scrapheap rather than offered employment opportunities that take advantage of their years of experience.
There are a handful of enlightened companies that work with older employees to transition them out of a full-time job to a part-time or consultative role. This is rare. Instead, employees over 50 are discriminated against because of age. They lose the jobs they have and then cannot get another position because they are overlooked in favor of younger employees. This is not a particularly smart move by the company. When management terminates an older employee due to age, the company is often losing the value of the employee’s considerable knowledge base.
Finding another full-time job is challenging for anyone over 50. Despite his years of experience and considerable skills, the “older” worker is often seen as a liability rather than an asset. He justifiably seeks a higher salary than younger, less experienced workers. That isn’t the only barrier. Companies view older workers through a generally negative lens. Instead of valuing experience, they dismiss the idea of hiring the over-50 worker because “he won’t fit in” or “there will be a long learning curve.”
Many men over 50 want to or have to work full-time. However, if they are let go from their current job, it is more than likely it will take a long time to secure another full-time position. It is just as likely that they’ll have to start a new job at a lower salary and at a level that may be considerably lower than their previous job. That’s why tweeners may need to accept one or more part-time jobs, or they will need to take on contract jobs to make ends meet. This is one of the reasons the “gig economy” is growing so rapidly. Gigs, or contract assignments, are replacing more traditional employment for older workers.
Many of us fully expect to keep working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. We look at retirement as not any kind of termination point, but rather as another phase of life. The average life expectancy of a U.S. male is at least nineteen years beyond the traditional retirement age, so why shouldn’t you have the choice to work if you want to, as long as you are healthy enough to do so?
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day in this country, the American workplace has to catch up with the reality that older workers are not just more available, they are more employable. They are the workers with experience, maturity and flexibility. Until employers acknowledge the changing demographic landscape, the tweener will have to come up with his own creative alternatives.
I handled being a tweener by taking a calculated risk. I “rewired” in my mid-50s, leaving a professional career and moving from a city in the Northeast. I wanted to transition away from commuting, winter snowstorms and working in a traditional business setting. My wife and I relocated to a smaller city with a more temperate climate. We decided to start a small service business together and run it for a period of time, which turned out to be about seven years. We operated it as a transitional business until we were ready to stop working full-time. I then became a part-time independent writer and sometime marketing consultant, in combination with nonprofit volunteering. This transition has been a good one for me. I am very happy working when I want and managing my own schedule. I am fortunate in that I can write both for fun and for profit. I know not every Boomer has this luxury.
Obviously, your way of handling the tweener transition may be different from mine. One thing I can tell you is that it takes some time to feel comfortable with this new phase of life.
In my view, a satisfying rewirement (I use the term in place of “retirement”) is one that leverages your career skills into a flexible part-time position so you can pursue leisure activities as well. In order to do this, you need to have sufficient retirement savings/income so that you can work part-time rather than full-time, and your skills must be in demand, at least to the extent that you can achieve an attractive work/leisure balance.
In my case, the balance of part-time self-employment, volunteering, and leisure is ideal. Perhaps that would work for you, too.