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Redefining retirement


The first time Lyn Dwyer “resigned” was shortly after she entered her 60s.

A popular primary school teacher, ill health forced her out of the only job she had ever known.

“When I first retired I was not in a good place. I found it difficult moneywise as well as emotionally,” she says.

Lyn found some financial relief, going first on the disability support pension and later transitioning to the aged pension but says she struggled to accept the period of her life involving fulltime employment was now over.

“I felt a bit flat and so went to see my doctor. She told me I needed to find something to do during my ’recess’, my ‘lunchtime’ and then during my ‘after school’ hours.”

So when eight years ago an acquaintance casually approached her about picking up some office cleaning duties, the Central Coast senior leapt at the opportunity.

Now nearing her 75th birthday, Lyn continues to spend around eight hours across three mornings a week cleaning toilets, wiping down mirrors and emptying waste paper baskets for “pocket money” that subsidises the support she is offered from the government.

As well as helping to meet Lyn’s day-to-day living expenses, the extra money allows her to derive even greater pleasure from the travel, choir singing and card-making activities she enjoys in her spare time.

And it appears she’s not alone.

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, mature age workers currently account for 40 percent of the total Australian workforce with anecdotal evidence suggesting more Australians than ever are choosing to work beyond the age where they are legally entitled to draw a pension.

Advocacy groups argue this is due in part to increasing life expectancy but also because many mature workers feel they don’t have enough funds in their super to retire on.

Like Lyn, they don’t want to be forced to live solely off the government pension which is asset-tested and currently offers a maximum amount of $398.95 a week for a single and $601.50 each per week for a couple.

In response, seniors groups say there are three common factors that influence workers’ decision on when to retire. The first is financial security, next is personal health and physical abilities and the last is reaching eligibility age to receive the pension.

It appears this concern has a flow on effect with recent analysis of ABS data showing the number of over-45 workers who say they will not retire before turning 70 has almost tripled, from eight percent in 2006 to 23 percent in 2016. Compounding the issue is that from July, the pension age is set to rise by six months every two years, climbing to 67 by 2023. The government proposes to continue this rate of increase until the qualifying age reaches 70 on July 2, 2035.


More time to spend as he pleases

Bruce Eagle is 66-year-old and for the past two and a half years has called Cherry Tree Grove Village home. Currently self-employed, he is winding down from a career in IT support and maintenance.

As well having a keen interest in fishing, Bruce enjoys selling boats and related gear during the annual Melbourne Boat Show and during the last weeks of November up until the 25th December he “assists an old gentleman in a red suit pass on the joys of Christmas” to children.

In addition to this work, Bruce is a keen community volunteer, serving on the Owners Corporation and Residents’ Committee and completing a multitude of tasks from driving residents to their appointments to answering phones and helping out with odd jobs.

Bruce says he and his wife did their sums prior to committing to move into Cherry Tree Grove and found that their pension was sufficient to cover the annual costs involved in village living while the small amount of income he now earns is a supplement to enhance their lifestyle.

“During my fulltime employment life I imagined retirement to be just not going to the office each day and relaxing doing whatever I liked. As it has turned out I was pretty spot on except I like doing the things I used to do only now it is
within my timeframe.”


Not just about the money

Queenslander Tory Holman is another who has put off complete retirement in favour of working part-time. Tory, who is in her 67th year, has worked fulltime all her life in healthcare administration and has chalked up 28 years working for United Care Health. When she turned 64 Tory, whose husband Les also draws a pension, dropped from working five days a week to four and despite being past the traditional age of retirement, it was only 18 months ago she reduced her working hours to one full day a week.

Tory says while she has access to her super and also draws a small pension; she never spent any of her younger years contemplating what retirement would look like.

“We had our children young and we both had good jobs. I never thought we would struggle but I also knew that financially we’d never be rolling in it. My husband salary sacrificed a lot and it gave us both a good financial foundation.”

Tory says aside from the financial incentive, there are many reasons why she and others choose to continue working after retirement age.

Working part-time helps keep her brain active and allows her to share all the intellectual property she has gleaned over her years in the health sector with her younger colleagues, she says.


Good business sense

But having mature aged workers beyond 65 participating in the work force is not just good for morale among the workers but also good for the economy.

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report prepared for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand found a five percent increase in workforce participation from people aged over 55 would provide a $48 billion annual boost
to government coffers, including savings on pensions and income tax increases.

In recognising this trend for mature workers to work longer while also adding to the country’s bottom line, the federal government has introduced a number of incentives it hopes will help keep active seniors in gainful employment.

These include the Work Bonus Scheme that allows eligible active seniors the right to earn up to $250 per fortnight without it affecting their pension.

This means that if mature-aged workers earn less than $250 in a fortnight, part of the $250 Work Bonus reduces their assessable employment income to zero, and the remaining amount is then added to their Work Bonus balance. 

If they earn more than $250 in a fortnight, the Work Bonus reduces their assessable employment income by $250, then, any Work Bonus balance built up is used to reduce the remaining employment income.

To help get more mature age job seekers into work, it has also introduced Restart a subsidy program that offers eligible employers up to $10,000 over six months if they employ eligible mature-age job seekers. Payments are made over six months and employers can negotiate how often they receive them. The scheme also has provision for eligible employers to receive a kickstart payment of up to 40 per cent of the total wage subsidy after four weeks of the job starting.

But financial motivations aside there are many other incentives for mature workers to stay in work and businesses to employ them.

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science says hiring a mature age employee is a great investment for any business as not only do they often allow business owners to look at their operations from a fresh perspective, but
can also help improve business processes, fill any skill or knowledge gaps in the workplace, provide mentoring to less experienced employees and train up fellow employees by sharing skills.

It says there is evidence that mature aged workers can also save business owners money due to lower rates of absenteeism and help introduce new technologies in the workplace.


Engendering trust

Home improvement chain Bunnings has always had an open door policy when it comes to employing mature age workers.

Bunnings human resources general manager Bianca Starcevich says in Australia its team spans six generations (from 15 to 80) providing what she describes as “fantastic learning and mentoring opportunities for everyone”.

“We learned a long time ago that older, more experienced team members are an integral part of creating a business that engenders trust and confidence for our customers. It also helps us benefit from all the wisdom and character that life experience brings. Our diverse local teams reflect their communities and naturally, mature aged workers have some great experience and can often inspire local customers with their D.I.Y projects and knowledge.”

Bianca says one of the most important and valuable aspects is that the company’s older workers become mentors for the younger workers, and this has created a genuine blend of experience.

This, she argues, is a win for customers, a win for the chain’s younger team members and a win for the mature age worker.

“Younger team members naturally gravitate to these experienced people and we get informal mentoring and fantastic training and development out of all of this that ultimately our customers benefit from. Teamwork is absolutely integral to our business and you can’t have teamwork without respect, which our older workers naturally command. It’s a really important part of our culture.”

Both Lyn and Tory say they’re not sure full retirement will ever be a part of their vocabulary. Both women say remaining in part time work keeps them active while flexible work practices allow them to take the time off as and when it’s needed. And for Tory at least there’s little chance of her handing in her notice anytime soon.

“I really enjoy what I do, I have an interest in people and believe that I still have a lot to contribute. I feel that because I am committed to only one day a week of work, I have plenty of time to catch up with my grandchildren and enjoy my patchwork and quilting. I feel I have a really good balance in life.”

Bruce is of the opinion that retirement is only a word.

“A person needs to be busy and that can be in either paid employment or volunteering time to contribute to other activities and other people. In the village environment, you can contribute as many hours as you like or as little as you like. You are not judged. You can only measure your contribution worth by the fulfilment you feel yourself.

“Retirement is not a need to travel the world, dig the garden, watch television or mind the grandkids. Retirement is to be able to do what of these pastimes you choose, when you want and for as long as you want and can afford,” he says.


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