At what age should you retire?

We tend to believe retirement is an age thing. Well, once you turn 65, it’s time to retire! Do you know where ’65’ actually came from? Most HR pros will probably guess it, it’s when America instituted social security insurance back in 1935.

The U.S. Government, in 1935, didn’t even use any science to determine 65 years old.  At the time, the national railroad pension retirement age was 65, and about half the state pensions were the same (the other half were 70), so 65 years old was chosen. Way less red tape back in 1935! Can you imagine the government trying to make that decision today!?

So, you turn 65 and you’re supposed to retire. In 1935, that probably was fairly accurate. The actual life expectancy in 1935 was only 61! So, we built social security knowing most people would not live to receive it. Today, life expectancy is around 79 years old!  As you can imagine, 65 years old is no longer a realistic retirement age.

I’m currently 50 years old.  It’s my belief that I have about 20 years left to work and save for my retirement. I’m assuming I’ll work until I’m at least 70.  70 years old today doesn’t seem like 70 years old when I was a kid.  My parents are now in their 70’s and they don’t seem ‘old’. I mean they’re old, but not like they can’t do anything old.  Both could still easily work and produce great work if they wanted to.

All of this should change how we look at succession planning in our organizations, but we still use 65 as the ‘expiration’ date of when someone no longer seems to have value. “Oh, you know Tim, he’s going to be 65 next year, I’m amazed he can still stay awake all day!”

65 in 2020 is not the same 65 we saw in 1935!  The health and physical wellbeing of those two people are worlds apart!

Succession Planning needs to catch up with this difference.  HR needs to lead this charge.  Part of this change starts with us changing the language and numbers we use when describing retirement.  Regular retirement age needs to start at 70 years old, at a minimum, and move up from there.  We need to eliminate 65 years old from everything we write and speak.  It’s just no longer valid or accurate.

Once we push this date out, we can then start to plan much more accurately to what our organizational needs will truly be.  Next, we need to have frank conversations with those who we believe are reaching an age where they want to retire and have real conversations.  HR pros have been failing at this for years!  It’s actually not against the law to ask an employee what their retirement plan is! It should be against the law that you don’t ask this question!

If an employee knows that you are working with them to reach their goals, and you let that employee know that ‘hey, we need you for another five years’, most will actually happily stay on the additional time.  My Dad worked in a professional job until he was 72, and they wanted him longer! Don’t ever underestimate the power of being wanted. As we age, that desire to be wanted just increases!

So, I’ll ask you. At what age do you think someone should retire?

2 thoughts on “At what age should you retire?

  1. The photo at the top of your article got my attention. (The woman, aging across four panels.) As an “over 50” person myself, I was oblivious to the question you framed at the beginning of your article. I was trying to click away the darn photo to figure out which anti-aging product was being thrust in my face today. 🙂

    In other words, I think I still have plenty of gas in my tank. The advertisers think I need to obliterate any evidence that I have accumulated some wisdom over time. I find nothing sadder than an older person “having some work done” to erase the evidence of a life that has seen a lot.

    As far as work goes, I am just getting started. Employers and skin care folks do not always realize that (and some younger workers want us out of their way). There is room for both, and the learning goes in two directions. Let’s not lose sight of either perspective. Retirement is a personal choice, not driven by a date on a calendar.

  2. I believe there is no one retirement age. When a person retires will depend on their job, their health, their financial ability and their desire to retire. Having a good relationship with your employees will help them to feel comfortable enough to discuss their plans with you. I have had some employees tell me they will retire when they turn 65 so I have plenty of time to prepare and others who let me know they can’t imagine retiring. They are both good answers and I appreciate having time to plan for the future.

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