Disrupting The Biggest Career Disruption of All

There’s a big career disruption I never talk about.

Retirement.

Fact is, I rarely think about it. I love my work, and can’t imagine wanting to give it up. I know a lot of people who feel this way; plenty of others who don’t feel like they’ll ever be able to afford to retire. Rumor has it that many of us try it and find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. They un-retire.

Planning to work has become the new retirement plan for many of us. It’s a throwback to earlier times, before Social Security, when the only alternative to working in later years for most people was dependency on family, neighbors—perhaps a church community. Fortunately, we have more options than that.

The reality is that retirement is eventually forced upon most of us, even if we don’t choose it for ourselves.

Experts remind us that planning to work forever is a plan that most can’t execute indefinitely, as age and declining health can take us out of the game sooner than we expect. Even for fully committed workaholics, retirement does bear some consideration and conversation, a little strategizing—so that we can hopefully manage this career disruption on our own terms, rather than being managed by it.

I can’t help with financial strategy; please hire a professional. But a couple of random stories and events had me thinking about retirement this Spring Equinox/holiday season just past.

Peeps first. The iconic springtime treat—the little yellow and pink chicks and bunnies of my childhood, now available in a rainbow of colors and also as pumpkins at Halloween, trees and snow people at Christmas, hearts at Valentine’s Day and so on.

Just Born Quality Confections, the maker of Peeps, is embroiled in a brouhaha over their employee pension plan that has implications with the power to disrupt retirement funding for millions of Americans. You can read the details here.

A summary: Just Born participates in a multi-employer pension (MEP) and wants to renegotiate the terms of its involvement. The underlying claim is that the pension is too costly and adjustments have to be made for Just Born to be able to keep their production operations within the U.S., rather than resorting to the even bigger disruption of seeking a cheaper workforce elsewhere. But the potential precedent-setting fallout is staggering—and surprised me, especially considering how few of us enjoy employer pension plans these days.

I would have overlooked this story entirely except that my husband’s employer had just announced a new retirement offering: a MEP (multi-employer program; no pensions here) involving a 403b, close cousin to the 401k but a variant for non-profit employers and their employees. My husband is in academia, and his university is entering into a first-of-its-kind in America arrangement, combining with a dozen or so other universities in a MEP to maximize their investment power, reduce fees, etc.

Retirement, the biggest, end-of-career disruption, is being disrupted. Yet again.

Social Security disrupted the cultural landscape. It would be difficult to turn back the clock to a time when children planned to financially provide for parents for years or even decades of retirement. But less than a century after SS came into being, we hear frequent, dire warnings about the state of its trust funds; changes will have to be made to this entitlement program—proactively or by necessity.

Employer pensions have, for many, been replaced by personal retirement accounts. The 403b offered by my husband’s employer is an example; the very similar 401k is far more common. Introduced in the early 1980’s, the 401k was intended to augment existing pension programs, not replace them. But the cost to employers is so much lower that most fled the pension system years ago and offer a 401k instead—with or without matching contributions. Unfortunately, many workers who have the 401k option, opt out. And, of course, a significant number of us don’t have access to these financial instruments through our employment at all.

Many of the pension funds that remain intact are in a state of disarray, subject to the whims of volatile investment markets; the prognosis for their future financial health mostly falling along a spectrum from underfunded to bankrupt.

There are IRA’s, Roth and Traditional. Real estate and business investments. Gold has been a popular value hedge since time immemorial. The array of possibilities can generate more confusion than comfort.

No wonder so many of us plan to keep working as long as possible, whether for the fun of it, or the unfundedness of the alternative. With virtually everything in our economy, society and culture being disrupted, rapidly and repeatedly, it shouldn’t surprise us that the “traditional” retirement is being disrupted too.

Even though we can’t afford not to financially prepare for retirement, that’s what a lot of us do. One of the overlooked reasons to engage in personal disruption throughout our careers is to develop the adaptability, flexibility, resourcefulness and diversification—not just of investments but of options—that will be as important as any other retirement preparation we can make.

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Want to harness the disruptive power of change for yourself or your team?

You want to be a great boss and create a place where people want to work. You also have tight deadlines and budgets to meet. The two often seem at odds. But they don’t have to be.

When you let your people learn, leap and repeat, you will not only meet your performance goals, because people are happy and all-in, you will become a talent magnet — a boss people love.

Learn more in my upcoming book Build an A Team with Harvard Business Press. Download the first chapter for free at — https://whitneyjohnson.com/ateam

 

Former award-winning Wall Street equity analyst Whitney Johnson is an expert on disruptive innovation and personal disruption.

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