A majority of baby boomers say they want to work in retirement, but U.S. companies are only just beginning to try to figure out how to accommodate that, according to a study released Thursday.
A survey conducted for financial services firm Merrill Lynch & Co. found that 71 percent of adults hope to work in retirement, with many looking for part-time jobs or an opportunity to move in and out of the work force — perhaps during a period as a long as 10 years.
Earning money is just one of the reasons, and it ranks third, the study found. The two leading reasons are to remain mentally and physically active, and many want to try new professions.
Most employers, meanwhile, aren’t ready for the shift that could affect thousands of their workers, given that the oldest of the 77 million-strong baby boom generation turn 60 this year.
Asked how prepared their companies were for boomers reaching retirement age, just 24 percent said their companies were “on track” to deal with the retirements. Some 27 percent said they were “in the midst of preparing,” 17 percent said they were just getting started, and 31 percent said their companies hadn’t given it much thought.
Michael Falcon, managing director and head of the retirement group at Merrill Lynch, said he believed this would change.
“Levels of awareness of the importance of keeping experienced workers are rising,” he said. “After the baby boomers, there’s a trough. ... Many industries are going to need to retain these workers.”
At the same time, many of the baby boomers want to remain productive, he added.
“These people don’t want to be done,” Falcon said. “People are saying, ’I am still relevant, I have something to offer.”’
The study conducted by Harris Interactive involved online interviews with more than 5,000 adults aged 25 years to 70 years, and telephone interviews with executives in more than 1,000 companies.
While 70 percent of the companies said they had identified areas where they might lose highly skilled workers, setting up systems to retain older workers was not a priority. Instead, most companies were focused on modifying their benefits packages, assessing how to attract younger talent or changing compensation packages to help retain workers.
Cynthia Hayes, head of employer plan solutions at Merrill Lynch, said that part of the disconnect has to do with the changing nature of retirement.
“Retirement now is an attitude as much as an event,” she said. She noted, for example, that the survey found that 40 percent of those 55 to 59 consider themselves “retired,” yet more than half of them were working or expected to work in retirement.
She said that some “pioneer” companies already were moving to attract older workers with programs such as telecommuting, more-flexible work schedules and opportunities for coaching and mentoring. Other attractions can be phasing in retirement or giving part-time and seasonal workers better access to health insurance, she said.