Like many working Americans, I put away a decent portion of my income each year toward my retirement. The idea is that, by the time I’m 65, I won’t be writing these columns or running Talent Economy any longer — as hard as that may be for you to believe. Heck, it’s unlikely that I’ll be doing this by the time I turn 45, because robots will probably have taken over by then.
At any rate, retirement for me is just like it is for most who work for a living. We work to one day stop working entirely. Instead of editing stories, producing podcasts, writing columns and coming up with new ways to engage with our readers, I will likely find a warm beach location, buy a taco stand and live my golden years selling cheap eats and cold beers to passersby. Or at least that’s the plan … for now.
But the truth is, the more time I’ve put into studying and observing the changing nature of work, the more I wonder if the retirement we are all planning for will ever come. To be sure, this isn’t necessarily because I or anyone else won’t have enough money to retire — although, if you believe the statistics of Americans’ average retirement savings, that certainly could be the case for some. It’s more because, by the time I turn 65, or probably well before then, the concept of retirement will likely be completely different from what we know it as today.
The changing nature of retirement is a topic of immense interest for us at Talent Economy. It’s something we’re planning on covering in-depth in 2018. But humor me while I tell you how I think retirement might play out in the future.
As I mentioned, currently most people sock away portions of their annual income into specifically designed retirement accounts that are invested into the public markets in the hopes of increasing in value by the time a person turns 65 and is ready to retire from work. For most people, this investment span is about 30-40 years — sometimes less, sometimes more. Once they reach retirement age, they begin withdrawing from these accounts as their income, funding their lifestyle until they die or the money runs out.
For many people, their entire working life is spent to earn a comfortable retirement. They sacrifice while they’re young, healthy and working to provide for their future. Sure, in between they may take vacations and indulge here or there, but for the most part their whole purpose is to work to generate wealth to fund their retirement.
Yet, as jobs and careers continue to change, on the heels of technology and other economic forces, it isn’t all that unrealistic to imagine a future where this sort of retirement framework doesn’t exist.
What if, instead of spending your whole working life saving for retirement, you took many mini retirements throughout your life? Given that younger generations have shown a penchant for changing companies and careers at a greater pace than generations before them, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to suspect that along those lines many will choose to take chunks of time off for themselves in between jobs and careers.
This idea is also supported by the facts that, as medical technology continues to increase, so will the average lifespan of a human being. Not only will people’s traditional retirement years be longer, but the possibility exists that more people will chose to work later into their lives. Retiring at age 65 may already seem out of style for some people, as more and more people chose to work not because they need the money but because they want to continue doing something fulfilling and productive.
A future of many retirements could also be supported thanks to the proliferation of at-home and gig-like work. If more and more people are working jobs where they’re afforded the flexibility to work remotely — again, thanks to the proliferation of technology and work styles that allow them to do so — then it’s not completely crazy to think that a midcareer professional could comfortably do their job while on the beach off the coast of California one week, then return to the office the next, only to head back to another remote location after that. After that contract gig or project is up, that person may decide to take a few months off before engaging with a new project with another company.
The big question becomes how will both employees and business leaders prepare themselves for this potential future? Changing the entire framework of retirement, however, is far bigger than how it will influence employees and employers. It will require a total change to the institutions that have built their existence on the very notion of delayed retirement. Companies, which used to fund workers’ retirements with pensions, may one day decide to stop offering 401(k) or other employee-contribution retirement plans altogether, leaving workers to take on even more of the savings responsibility themselves. Or maybe there’s some new savings system between the two parties, where employees are able to fund their many mini retirements over the course of their lifetimes.
Whatever the case, business leaders and employees should consider that the future of retirement is indeed likely to change. As for me, I’ll keep socking my money away for that day when I turn 65 — but I also won’t forget to prepare to take many, many mini retirements before I get there.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.