Congratulations on submitting the most enviable “workplace dilemma” that I can recall.
Q: I’m a 55-year-old male. I recently sold my business, which was very profitable. Financially, I am pretty well set. But while the idea of an early retirement was always appealing, I’m finding that I am bored out of my mind. I miss the activity and satisfaction that came from building and running a company.
I don’t feel I can talk to any of my friends about this, as they are hard at work and can’t really identify with my boredom. I feel I am too old to go back into the workforce, which seems so focused on millennials. Moreover, I have enjoyed 25-plus years of calling my own shots, so I wonder about reporting to someone else.
Is this just something I need to get over and enjoy the fruits of my labor? Or should I try to re-enter the workforce in some limited capacity? — Asheville, N.C.
A: Congratulations on submitting the most enviable “workplace dilemma” that I can recall. And as if the rest of us weren’t jealous enough already, you most likely have better options than you realize. No need to head back to some mailroom to be bossed around by 20-somethings 40 hours a week. You can dabble — consulting, taking on short-term gigs, freelancing.
“We’re seeing a massive number of people who, after retirement, come back to the workforce by freelancing,” according to Stephane Kasriel, chief executive of Upwork, a site that freelancers use to connect with clients in a range of fields. Upwork and the Freelancers Union commissioned an annual study on this segment of the workforce, and found that in the United States, 16 million people ages 55 and up did freelance work in 2017.
To be sure, plenty are doing so because they need to: Maybe they were thrown out of work against their will, or discovered retirement is more expensive than anticipated. But some, Kasriel observed, simply found full-time leisure unsatisfying.
There are a couple of paths you may follow. You could look for freelance gigs that leverage your specific skills (related to whatever field you worked in), but on a temporary or project basis. Or, Kasriel said, you could hire yourself out as more of a coach, offering “the wisdom acquired” from building a business. “People that have been 20 or 30 years in the workforce have a lot of transferable experience,” he added.
You may also be able to find something suitable through a firm such as Patina Solutions, which offers “executive on demand” services to corporate clients large and small. “We were built for a guy like this,” said Mike Harris, the company’s chief executive. Patina’s network includes thousands of experienced executive-level baby boomers who are available for project-specific or limited-time gigs, or mentoring arrangements.
It’s true, Harris conceded, that you’ll have to “get used to advising and supporting and recommending, as opposed to bossing and telling and directing.” But plenty of companies are looking for experience and know-how without a full-time commitment.
You can experiment. Sound out your own social network; consider charitable or volunteer options. Kasriel, the Upwork CEO, mentioned a user of the site who retired from investment banking, and now writes children’s stories. “It keeps him busy,” he said. “And apparently he’s pretty good at it.”
In the immediate term, Kasriel noted, a tight labor market makes experienced talent more valuable. In the longer term, structural shifts in that market are for better or worse tilting toward more demand for freelancers.
And Harris suggested that you are part of a broader phenomenon. Since founding Patina Solutions nine years ago, well before the “gig economy” notion took hold, he wrote a book called “Career 180s.” It is about experienced workers living longer, getting bored — and starting whole new professional lives. “We hear a lot of these stories,” he said.
Peer review: when to quit (or not)
Q: Your recent advice to a worker ready to quit, but unsure about the ideal timing, seemed to be missing a key point.
Did this employee try to resolve the underlying issues with management — perhaps negotiating for changes that would make the job palatable again? Concern for the boss and co-workers is laudable. But to treat quitting as inevitable is to shoot oneself in the foot. Cutting and running — no matter what the time frame — isn’t proactively managing a career. — Gail Fletcher, Rome, New York
A: I am loath to question someone else’s sense that it is time to quit. But you make a reasonable point, and maybe I should examine that instinct more closely.
My main concern is that lobbying management for improvements could morph into an excuse to play it safe and avoid a needed change. So I would stick to my advice to think selfishly: Be bold and specific about what it would really take to reconfigure the job you long to quit into a job you’d love to keep. Be fair to the boss in evaluating any resulting counteroffer. But be fair to yourself, too.