Working in retirement can provide dollars to close a hole in your budget or allow you to spend money with less anxiety. But even more valuable for some people is that part-time work can get retirees back into a social setting.
That’s a big reason that Mount Airy, N.C., resident Conrad Martin, age 72, works in a hardware store, 15 years after retiring from BellSouth in Atlanta. “In the six months after I retired, I nearly went up the wall with nothing much to do but take walks and work crossword puzzles,” he says. That’s when he took the job, with hours that vary week to week, that he’s still at today. “My job is a place to see people and catch up on what they’re doing. It gets me out of the house,” he says.
Further, Martin says. “I walk to work, which is good exercise. Plus I’m good at figuring out ways to do things that customers haven’t thought of.”
Jill Steinberg, professor emerita at San Jose State University and a clinical psychologist who teaches classes on successful retirement, says that more retirees should be—and are—continuing to work after they leave their careers. “Working and retirement used to be an oxymoron. Now it’s the norm that people are working,” she says.
Forty-five percent of middle-income baby boomers expect to work part-time in retirement, according to a recent survey by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement.
A post-retirement job can help fight off loneliness and give retirees a sense of purpose, Steinberg says. “People think it will be great to have leisure time, but they don’t think of the details of how they’re going to spend it. Waking up to a blank schedule can be very difficult.” Even if someone has been looking forward to retirement, leaving a job can mean losing social connections and no longer feeling needed. That’s particularly true of men, Steinberg adds.
There are other issues for women. Many women also get a positive sense of themselves from work, and a job can limit how much family caregiving they do and how involved they get with family conflicts, Steinberg says. In retirement, while men may do some paid work and pursue leisure activities, she says, “women end up doing more caretaking and household tasks.”
Martin’s retirement job harks back to work his dad used to do: His father worked in a hardware store for many years before becoming a stockbroker. “I’ve been around this all my life, and I’m good at thinking of ways to get things done," Martin says. “I’ve learned a lot about being a locksmith, too, which is new to me.”
Martin saved enough money during his BellSouth career to fund his retirement, so he spends his hardware store earnings on travel. “I have a very reasonable boss,” Martin says. “Obviously I try to work with him on his needs, but when I tell him that we’re going to Europe for 12 days, he says, ‘Where are you going?’ ” Last year, in addition to 12 days on a riverboat cruise in Europe, Martin and his wife spent a week each in Alaska, on the coast in North and South Carolina, and in New Mexico.
As long as he’s healthy, Martin says, he plans to keep working. “I was 59 when I retired, and I planned to work another four or five years at the hardware store,” he says. Fifteen years later, “I’m still there.”