Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Work After Work: Our new Age of Life and the Moral Necessity for Returnment

With so much difficulty in fundraising for nonprofits given the economy right now, there's a lot to be gained by cultivating "retirees" as volunteers.  First, as Jay Bloom, of Bloom Anew, points out, people are living longer and living healthier and have many more years of productivity available even after they have ceased "formal" work.  Second, these volunteers can help your nonprofit sustain itself even after you've had to cut staff and layoff critical talent.  I know for myself when I look ahead at what "retirement" will mean to me one day, I can't imagine not having anything to do.  The old image of the rocking chair is completely unappealing.  There is a wealth of talent and resources out there in the post-retirement community, the "returnment" community as Jay puts it.  What are y9ou doing to tap into these resources? Something to think about.  Bunnie

Work after Work:  Our new age of life and the moral necessity for “Returnment”

By Jay C. Bloom, President of Bloom Anew

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Many times a day I realize how much my own inter and outer life is built on the labors of other men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give and return as much as I have received."  -Albert Einstein

Returnment – n.

1) The act of giving back or returning in some small way what the world has given you.

2) Especially as an alternative to retirement.

At the turn of the last century, the average life expectancy was only 47. Today it is rapidly approaching 80, and our fastest growing age groups demographically are those individuals over the age of 85 with someone in this country turning 50 every eight seconds. More significantly, the average health of individuals over the age of 50 has dramatically increased. This can be attributed to better nutrition, exercise, improvement in our health care technology and generally less physical labor in our formal work.

This increased health has created a new, unprecedented age in our human life cycle. A average 60 year old person today is closer to a 40 or 50 year old health-wise compared to a 60 year old twenty or thirty years ago.

Carl Van Horn, director of the Rutgers Center, was quoted as saying, “Retiring Boomers will have the same sweeping impact as the entrance of women into the workforce in the 70s.”

Our old model of retirement suggested that people essentially worked until the ages of 60-65, and then a person felt fortunate if there were a few years of leisure before their physical health deteriorated and/or death ensued. Now people can retire at age 60 and expect to live twenty or more vibrant years, especially if they have taken care of themselves physically.

The boomers have been described as a much more independent, “live for today” group. They are already showing signs that they will not approach retirement in a traditional fashion. Boomers are going to have great difficulty relating to the terms senior, elderly, old, and mature. In fact, most of them will resist, I believe, the term “retirement” in general.

In the August 25, 2000 edition of the Portland, OR Business Journal, Serge D. Rovencourt, retired general manager of Portland Hilton Hotel said, “I have retired from the Hilton, but I am not retired. I tell you I am going to find another word that is different from the word retirement. Retirement lends itself for people to say, ‘Well, he is tired, that’s the end of it.’ There has to be another word other than retirement.”

As every eight seconds someone turns 50 in this country, I believe there is a great spiritual need and moral necessity for redefining “retirement” with “returnment.” I define “returnment” as “the act of giving back or returning in some small way what the world has given to you.” Other words could be used such as stewardship, trusteeship or husbandry. I like this new word because it captures not only our new age of life but the psychological and spiritual needs of this time of life as well.

The pursuit of the traditional retirement life of primarily leisure and consumption will lead to not only a tremendous loss of talent, experience and resources, but intensified inter-generational economic and resource conflicts and ultimately for most individuals, regret and despair. Hillel challenges us with these words: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

Many people will need a meaning and reason to continue to live. Medical research is also learning that those who have a reason to live generally live longer. My belief is that a large number of boomers with their new age of life and longer life spans will want to be involved in some type of “work.” More importantly, I believe they will want work that allows for more meaning and purpose than their earlier work provided. As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” To live the rest of our lives uninvolved and unengaged I believe will be unrewarding and unacceptable. In fact unless you are engaged in your later years you are just dying longer not living longer.

Where is the time, talent, and financial resources most needed? There has been a great shrinkage of nurturance and care available in our society and a growing isolation between the generations and between each other. This is due to a number of factors, including the increased number of working women with children, the total amount of hours worked by both men and women, cutbacks in public funding and the overall frenetic pace of life.

All around us we are seeing the evidence of a shortage of available teachers, nurses and other community caregivers. . The average loan balance of college graduates continues to increase significantly juxtaposed against wages for those in non profit organizations likely remaining flat. Therefore, it is likely that fewer and fewer young people are and will be entering the care giving professions such as teaching, nursing and human services.

We can also expect the increased cutbacks by government in supporting traditional human services to continue. President Obama has called for a new commitment to volunteerism by all age groups. We need to challenge the 80 million strong boomers to step up, get involved and set the example. This growing age group will have more time than any other age group.

This emerging social change is a new and excellent opportunity for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) to fulfill two critical needs at the same time. By offering meaningful employment and volunteer opportunities, nonprofits can meet their own current and growing labor shortage while at the same time tapping into a significant social need of experienced individuals looking for purposeful involvement, engagement, and work. This new human capital can be transformed into new social capital that fosters greater intergenerational interdependence and equity.

As a former NPO executive with over 35 years in the field, I know it will not be easy for NPOs to use this new resource. Too often we see costs and liabilities with this new workforce rather than as an abundant growing resource. We must also transcend the vulnerability of limiting this new energy into mundane or traditional employment or volunteer vehicles. Fortunately, many NPOs have a culture of innovation and thinking outside the box and our funding environment and labor challenges will demand even more creative adaptation. Most of this change will involve new organization development and human resource management approaches in such into areas as job and project design, orientation and training programs for the new workforce, existing employees and managers, and different compensation, recognition and benefit plans. Clearly there will be both the need for technical change as well as adaptive change within the sector.

The good news is that surveys indicate that up to 80% of all boomers expect to work or volunteer part time in their later years and 70% said that they would work even if they had enough money to live comfortably, according to a survey by the Rutgers Community Center for Workforce Development. The care giving professions of teaching, child care, nursing and human services are in great need of replenishment and expansion.

With the emerging need for meaning and purpose being one of the potential primary drivers of the people over age 50, community service through NPOs offers a real opportunity for a win/win engagement and/or employment. We cannot afford for boomers in their aging lives to be perceived as socially useless and only living a life of consumerism. There is a great need, opportunity and moral necessity for tapping into their wisdom, experience, and wealth, finances and time.

Just imagine if only a portion of the 3 million people retiring or changing their work each year now were to pursue a life of “returnment.” What problems could be addressed? How many children’s lives would be different? What new kind of energy would be created? What level of hope?

“Every man’s obligation is to put into the world at least what he takes out of it.”  -Albert Einstein

Since 1983 Jay C. Bloom through Bloom Anew has been providing executive and personal coaching to leaders, managers, and individuals in the private, philanthropic, and government sectors who are experiencing a transition in their lives or desiring to strengthen their professional skills and capabilities. Jay's organizational consulting is also highly sought-after. He provides leadership and management consultation to nonprofit and private organizations, with a special expertise in helping organizations develop effective partnerships. His web site is www.BloomAnew.com.


  1. “Every man’s obligation is to put into the world at least what he takes out of it.” -Albert Einstein. Nice One.

  2. Being a whole-hearted volunteer never a stark idea of spending a retirement. I have this friend, Steven, a 68-year-old ex- CEO of a mid-level engineering firm whom has an embarking high on helping others. Yes, those like him whom in a different angle had failure of attaining a retirement. Instead of splurging dime on a fancy yacht, (which I find deem harmless), he volunteers as a head finance and health caregiver for several retirement homes. Paralyzing his own dreams of becoming the greatest land developer in America has never been that easy for him, but when he felt the true love and care during his down times, he then decided to go the hard yet fulfilling journey—stretching an open hand and palm for those who need it more. He also does free talks and seminars about micro financing for a senior housing, Pennsylvania area to be exact.