Why pandemic boredom may force us all to work until we're 75
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Coronavirus is being called the UK population’s ' biggest threat to retirement.’
But not just for the obvious reason of over 50s needing to work longer for income because they need to dip into their pension pot to keep them going through the pandemic because of furlough, lost work or unemployment.
The reality of being at home with no work structure or stimulus of colleagues across the office and water-cooler banter has hit home how isolating and dull retirement can be.
I won’t even touch on being with significant others 24/7 and having to invest in a new shed to escape.
Four walls, limited company and narrow horizons after a busy work life has been a terrible shock to the system to many, especially in the last mid-winter lockdown.
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“Is this what retirement will feel like?” asked a furloughed friend on Zoom, who had been longing to cut free from her demanding career, as she brought her relationship with her first bottle of wine that evening to an end.
That once-alluring prospect of finishing work, waking up with no commitment, to do as we please, fill our time our way, has been replaced by fear and a sense of foreboding.
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There’s been time – an awful lot of time – to reassess plans, with people vowing now to work longer, or at least work part-time longer.
“I couldn’t wait to retire but the main thing lockdown has taught me is that I need structure, routine and work. I can’t wait to get back,” I’ve heard more than once.
People who had already cut their hours crave to get back to work, and plan to delay their retirement plans for longer once this horrible pause in normal life is over.
Those who checked their pension pots daily counting down the days to retirement, are now desperate to get back to work and “to normal” as they see it.
Many self-employed people have been hit really hard in the service industries and sectors that have shut down or slowed down.
The spring lockdown was made easier by glorious weather.
But being stuck at home with nothing to do but go for walks, decorate another room and wait for the weather to perk up to get into the garden – this weekend, apparently – has taken the shine off what was once a long-awaited dream for many workers.
Quitting at 50s and early 60s means a potential of 30 years to fill. That’s a lot of spare time.
Even with handsome funds for retirement global travel, once allowed, three decades is as long as many careers.
Police officers who joined at 20 are eligible for their plump pensions at 50. That’s much life still to live, and a difficult step to take.
Time and time again the people who watched their pensions daily counting down the days to retirement, can now think of nothing worse.
The not so wealthy over-50s will have to work longer anyway, and many have been using their retirement funds to keep going.
Nearly a fifth of British people who took part in a recent survey say they have been forced to spend their retirement funds early with about 77% of over-50s believing Covid-19 will directly impact their ability to retire, even if they wanted too.
It’s come as a shock to many how the lack of stimulation can slow them down, and how a wide world can soon become narrow.
If you don’t use it, you lose it, has always been the warning, but when it happens and mental agility starts to wane with under-used brains, it’s alarming.
And the physical effects of not moving as much have also hit home about how inactivity post-retirement can really impact on health and well being, and very quickly.
An expected legacy of the pandemic will be a very different view of when and how we ‘retire’, and what motivates our decisions.
Working until 75 would once have been a horrifying thought, but it’s more and more common, even if money is not the key objective to having a job.
I heard this week about a business who had two engineers in their 70s still enjoying their work and contributing hugely to the company’s success. They have no plans to retire, and their boss is anxious about losing their experience and enthusiasm for their work.
And this week 80-year-old George Bailey postponed his retirement as “Britain’s oldest paper boy” after being sent an electric bike to help him on his morning rounds in Kent, every morning.
"Knowing I can now continue doing what I love, with a little help from modern technology, is fantastic.
"I might even still be doing this when I'm 90. It's given me a new lease of life."
Hear hear George.
He’s an inspiration to millennials who will have about five or six different careers.
After working as a stockbroker, at food manufacturer Unigate for nearly 10 years and on a local golf course, he turned to the paper round as a pensioner, a job he first has at 11.
The pandemic has delivered many life lessons. Learning that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be could be one of the most important for so many people.