Retirement — A Seemingly Unattainable Goal

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On July 1, the reemployment age for older workers will increase from 65 to 67.

This might be what is expected of an ageing nation but statutory requirements seem to have little consequence on those who continue to work well past the retirement age.

Be it by choice or necessity, older workers can be found in most industries. Many run their own companies and refuse to loosen the grip on the reins, while others take up positions in upper management, or even advisory and consultancy roles. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the thousands who work low-skilled jobs to make ends meet. Or there are even some who collect cardboard “allegedly for exercise”.

We all should aspire to the work ethic of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, who worked well into his 80s. Such unfettered access to work should be the right of everyone in a perfect world.

With lifespans steadily increasing, and inflation and cost of living rising at alarming rates, it’s easy to see why retirement as we had previously known can no more be a reality. Only a privileged few can afford to stop working to enjoy a life of leisure. The rest of us, retirement isn’t even a relevant concept.

Anil David, CEO of AGAPE, which operates call centres, believes the government could help those in need of employment.

“There are so many tenders for government projects worths millions of dollars. Perhaps the government should include in the tender that the selected party would be required to have 10% of the team made up of qualified people who are of retirement age and another 10% of the physically disadvantaged. This way the responsibility of care is shifted from the government to the private sector. More importantly, it allows these people to feel relevant to society.”

While this would help create jobs it is not an immediate fix. Meanwhile, the growing group of Singaporeans heading towards retirement age trundles along.

So we pose the question:
You’ve reached retirement age, what’s Next?

Is retirement even relevant today? What other options are available to you? Can you afford to stop working? How are the changing economic factors affecting the way we work and retire?

Danny Chow, Retiree, 68

My well-thumbed and yellowish Collins COBUILD dictionary defines retirement as “when older people retire, they leave their job and usually stop working altogether”.

In this context, I find the ongoing discussions on retirement and related issues like the extension of legal re-employment age nothing but the proverbial dog barking up the wrong tree. If only things were so simple as the mass media has painted the issue to be.

In today’s context, the reality is that nobody really retires in the conventional sense of the word — put simply they are fired! Call a spade a spade; politically correct euphemisms do nothing but cloud the real issues.

The current retirement “crisis” has been framed as a matter for the individual to future-proof himself against changing trends now and for the future. But the reality is that the individual has no “big data” to future-proof himself other than doing the best job he can in his current position.

Ultimately — there is NOTHING one can do to prepare for “retirement” as long as everyone associates the word with age!

The only way to prepare for retirement is to be able to read YOUR own cup of tea leaves, follow the maxim of spending AFTER you have saved, and not save after you have spent.

What is enough? To quote one of our ministers — depends on whether you want to have a meal in the hawker centre or a five-star restaurant. And even in a five-star restaurant, it depends on whether your order of chye tow kuay is fried with XO sauce.

Until we view the word “retired” as a tyre retread, enjoy rolling along, and wearing yourself out.

Thusitha de Silva, Financial Journalist, 55

The main issue about retirement in Singapore is that people do not have enough money to retire. A lot of their money is also tied up in property. It has not been drummed into people that they should save, even a small amount of money, from a young age.

Retirement is a reward for working hard all your life.

However, as you approach retirement, you begin to wonder what you are going to do with your time when you are retired. People are living longer, so this gets them thinking about whether they will have enough money to retire on.

By the time they think about this, it may be too late to start investing for a nest egg. Annuity payments from CPF Life aren’t likely to be enough. So, many have to continue to work.

Singapore is small. You can’t go to a cheaper, rural town on the island, for example, to retire. So, you think about leaving the country.

I expect to see more people shifting out of Singapore in the coming years to stretch out whatever nest egg they have. They won’t go too far from Singapore because they will want to maintain some ties here too.

From the government’s perspective, this is not a bad thing. Older people who are not working do not pay taxes and are harder to upkeep because of their healthcare needs. The government would then also be justified in opening the immigration tap to replace them.

People are often tempted to overcome this issue by attractive financial products that are dangled in front of them.

Perhaps people hitting retirement age now did not have as many financial products to choose from when they were younger. There are more financial products to choose from now for the younger generation, but there are two big problems.

First, the sellers of such products tend to target higher net-worth people because they can charge higher fees for more exotic products. Higher net-worth people like to look clever and go for such products.

Secondly, when plain-vanilla products are bought across the wealth tiers, investors have a very short-term, trading mentality. In general, this won’t help them build up a sizeable retirement pool of funds.

Carecci Salvatore, CEO, Pasta Fresca Da Salvatore, 64

My restaurant and trading business is important to me. Although I have my sons to carry on the business, I intend to continue to be involved in it past my “retirement” age.

At present, my roles and responsibilities have not changed but I feel that my workload is lighter with them around. I am gradually stepping back, dedicating more time in the operational aspects of the business as I let them have a hand in key decision-making processes.

I look forward to pursuing other interests as I reduce my role. Farming is something I look forward to doing in the near future. I grew up in a farm back in Italy where I assisted by father in the cultivation and production of olives, wheat and fruits. One of my life’s goals is to manage a farm business!

In my younger days, retirement has always been viewed as an end to long years of labour, where a new life begins with one enjoying his pension or life savings. It is not so simple these days with the ageing population.

In economic sense, the current working generation supporting the elderly is estimated to be at 1:4.

So there are clear societal, economic and personal benefits to older workers maintaining their careers.

Bing Blokbergen-Leow, Director, Gastro-Sense Pte Ltd, 44

I joined the workforce when I graduated 23 years ago, and if I continued working until 67, it would mean I would work for another 23 years.  So I am at my half way mark!

It is not inconceivable to imagine investing the same number of years in the ‘second phase’ of my working life. As the director of a boutique brand and  communications consultancy, the ideal scenario would be to still have the fingers on the pulse — to remain relevant to market trends and development, and to provide services that continue to make a difference. Perhaps not maintaining the gruelling 18-hour workdays, but to have more flexibility and control of leisure time.

During the days of our parents, saving for retirement also meant postponing travel plans and only taking dream holidays during their autumn years. These days, working adults start checking off our ‘bucket list’ activities much younger as part of our lifestyle and development, which would mean that we would need to better plan our savings and investments for retirement, or extend our retirement to support our lifestyle.

These days, 67 is indeed the new 50, so if one loves the work he or she is in, and finds purpose in waking up each day to contribute to it, being employed keeps one’s mind active, nimble and connected to society.  We could live longer too!

David Ang, Director, Corporate Services, Human Capital Singapore, 70

The concept of retirement has evolved in the last decade, largely due to changes in the work place, technological infusions into work processes, and changing business models. Changing HR practices, like flexible work arrangement, freelancing, and variable employment contracts have rendered the concept of a structured work life leading into retirement from work almost irrelevant.

Organisations are slowly realising that older workers still have a lot to contribute. Hopefully, in the future, we can see more job sharing opportunities arising.

For now, and into the future, retirement will evolve further. New opportunities are starting to appear for people reaching their prime (up to around 55) and prime plus (55 up to 65 or beyond) ages or even beyond the new retirement age.

People live longer, their health and medical conditions are better and will keep on improving.

Most importantly, their experiences are still relevant, useful and adaptable to the changing world of work. And, if they continue to upgrade their skills and knowledge and keep in pace with technological advancements, they will continue to be a valuable human capital asset and investment. They will be able to value-add to organisations and earn their keep, with the corresponding rewards based on performance and the affordability of the organisation to pay. They will be able to work beyond the statutory retirement age and so long as they are willing and able, even up to and beyond 70.

Conversely, older workers also have the responsibility to be mindful of their own employability. They have to take stock of their skills inventory and contrast that with future opportunities and take steps to remain an attractive option for employers. They will need to formulate a plan to prolong their stay in the workforce and even retrain and reskill themselves.

HR will also play a role in retaining older workers in the workforce — by adding value to older workers through people development and also by convincing hirers of their worth.

Leela Jesudason, Managing Director, Clever Consumer Pte Ltd, 51

I don’t believe in actual retirement, as I intend to keep working for as long as possible. It would be good to ‘retire’ from the corporate rat race, and spend more time doing things that are much more meaningful. To facilitate this, I plan to set up better streams of passive income, so that I can be freed up to do the social work that I plan to.

Simply put, I can’t afford to stop working.

I still have kids to put through school, and I do think that it’s good to have an income of sorts for life’s little ‘extras’ (holidays, nice dinners, etc.). Putting myself onto a fixed monthly income to cover basic living costs doesn’t make sense. I spent some years of my life as a volunteer, so I don’t have a robust financial fall-back position, so all the more, I have to keep working for as a long as I can. The smart thing is to focus on a scalable business that doesn’t centre on me (as I have only so many hours a day to ‘sell’).

The plan, for me, is to set up streams of passive income, which is what I am doing by starting up several companies. Another attractive option that has been popular would be property investment — collecting rent to pay for a mortgage and then later to have as income, is a tried and tested manner to have relatively stable passive income.

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, Chairman, Tsao Foundation, 61

Mandatory retirement at a fixed age was actually an artificial construct invented by Germany’s first Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. He promised a pension to workers who “retire” at 65 as a way of motivating them to keep working, when few people actually lived that long!

That historical notion of retirement at a fixed age has stuck. However, it may not be as relevant today in determining whether one should continue to be engaged in paid work.

Short of increasing immigration, an ageing population requires mature adults to withdraw later from work. Increasing longevity of an additional 25 to 30 years also requires individuals to reconsider their financial and personal development needs and goals. Voluntary withdrawal is always a choice, but the need to work is ever-present.

The current challenge lies not with whether people want to retire, but their wish to remain in formal employment, and feeling that they are forced out because employers still have a “used-by” date for mature workers.

The question then is not whether older workers want to work, but whether appropriate employment opportunities are available.

There is choice, of course, in retiring from one formal career, and starting another. Or even pursuing meaningful, unpaid work such as volunteering, community action participation, active grand parenting if financial needs are already taken care of.

There are also increasing opportunities to pursue something new, different, and of interest, especially with the Internet and the rise of an “Uber” economy where people can be self-employed through internet-based platforms.

However, a longer life and fast paced technological changes require people to pause and learn, stop for extended leisure to have a breather, and return to work. With time, life cycle may evolve — towards not just one trajectory of study/work/retirement, but multiple such cycles through a much longer life.

Do you think you will be able to retire?

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1 Comment
  1. Retirement was a construct of the industrial revolution, and was intended to give the weary industrial or agricultural worker a small reward and a small amount of government support at the end of a hard working life. And for most of these workers, their advancing age meant that they weren’t really of great value for manual tasks anymore anyway. Retirement was not intended to apply to business people, entrepreneurs, property holders or even the military let alone the vast number of occupations that exist today that our grandparents couldn’t have imagined (Web designer? Coder? Barista???)

    As societies do, we moved on and as people’s life expectancy increased, and health at older ages improved, we used retirement as a means of refreshing and regenerating the workforce. We needed older workers to move on, to provide employment opportunities for the young.

    And now we’ve moved on again. Birthrates are in decline everywhere in the industrialised world; it appears to be a natural outcome of a prosperous society. Just look at Japan where I am writing these comments from now; they have simply no choice but to keep including older people in the work force, particularly in rural areas where there simply are very few young people to provide services. But why not? Many people in their 60s, 70s, 80s are in excellent physical and mental health, with much valuable knowledge and experience. Why would you set any sort of arbitary age when you need to “retire”, particularly when there are fewer younger workers to replace them? Retirement should be based on choice or reduced ability to contribute

    However those contributors worried that they will never be able to retire, should wait a few years before becoming too depressed. Because the nature of work is going to change again, very soon. The forthcoming Artificial Intelligence and Robotics revolutions are going to turn the world of work upside down – manual labour will quickly disappear. We won’t need Baristas – robots will make the coffee exactly the same way every time. But we will need thinkers, knowledge workers, entrepreuners, businesspeople and probably a whole range of occupations that we can’t even imagine now, just as our grandparents couldn’t have imagined some of those that exist today. But it is likely that there will be less “work” to do. And how society functions in a world where there are far fewer actual jobs, is something few societies seem to be thinking much about. We should start thinking about it now

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