What About Me? Older Adults in the Workforce

Wed, 31 Jan 2018

Karen Dar Woon
Volunteer, SFU Public Square

In a world of $2million apartments, the end of mandatory retirement, and concerns about longevity & security of private pension plans, approximately 1/3 of Canadians aged 60–70 are either working or looking for work. I count myself as one of the nearly 40% of older workers who are self employed.

What are some of the effects on workplace environments and communities, when adults remain in paid work past age 60?

As an older worker (self-employed providing personal services) I am gradually reducing my workload. As my clients also age, some of them move into supported housing, and no longer need my services. Others realize that their retirement savings are not as robust as they thought, and so cut back on personal expenses. I’m grateful that having moved through “a few” careers, my skillset helps me to open new doors and find interesting opportunities. But even with the reduced working hours, I find that I don’t have enough time to care for aging parents, and new grandchildren. Thankfully, my partner, older and fully retired, is able to take on most of those care-giving responsibilities.

Look around you in retail shops, services, fast food outlets. How many older adults do you see? How many do you think have multiple part-time jobs? For those adults who need higher-than-minimum-wage incomes, multiple jobs is the norm. In my 40s and 50s, I had multiple part-time jobs PLUS private clients, in order to provide sufficient stable income for my household. Compounding the ongoing effect of lower earnings, older part-time workers (like myself) are not eligible for company-sponsored group health insurance. The result is that we are spending more of our income on healthcare, for longer, because we also live longer. Lower earnings also translate to lower CPP benefits in a few years. And, as a woman, my CPP benefit will be lower  than a man of similar earning history.

Older adults who remain in the workplace tend to stay more physically active, and therefore stronger. We often maintain high levels of social engagement, decreasing our risk of isolation and maintaining our networks. We maybe even have an opportunity to stay current with changes to personal technologies. However, sometimes our workplaces are not in tune with our changing bodies. Narrow corridors and low-contrast computer screens are not very senior-friendly. Open-space work areas may be too noisy for us to stay focused. Organizations who want to keep older adults engaged must broaden their ergonomic approach to workplace design. But the cost-benefit analysis should show that we bring a wealth of expertise, life experience and humour  into the room.

Word to the wise: Older workers are here to stay. Also, not every silver-haired person getting onto the bus is retired.

Research resources

Older Canadians Work in the Paid Labour Force.
© Zhaowen Mei, Jacquie Eales and Janet Fast (2013) UofA, Edmonton Community Foundation, Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (Sage)

Portrait of Canada’s Labour Force
National Household Survey (NHS) May 2011

History of the Canadian Labour Force Survey 1945–2016
Jeannine Usalcas & Mark Kinack. Statistics Canada January 201

Unemployment: Older workers waiting for the revolution
CBC News/Business/Analysis Don Pittis March 2014

The new retirement age is 70
The Globe and Mail Carrick on Money October 2017

The changing face of retirement in Canada
Maclean’s Julie Cazzin June 2017