Retirement is hard enough to plan for without a global pandemic in play. But now that the COVID-19 disease is wreaking havoc on lives, economies, and retirement accounts, your original plan for your senior years may not be workable. When you're faced with a smaller nest egg and a lot of financial uncertainty, your simplest move may be to keep working.
You wouldn't be alone in that strategy. Even before the novel coronavirus became a household name, more and more Americans were staying in the workforce past the traditional retirement age. As of July 2019, nearly 20% of U.S. adults aged 65 and older had full- or part-time jobs, according to Pew Research. That translates to nearly 10.5 million people and 6.6% of the workforce.
Nineteen years prior, in 2000, older Americans accounted for just 3% of workers. Longer life expectancies and the increased financial burden of retirement are behind the trend.
Of course, retirement's financial burden is far more troubling when market turbulence slashes 20% or more of your account value in four short weeks. It's a logical move to continue working while you shore up your retirement accounts and wait for the market to bounce back. And if you don't want to stay in your current role indefinitely, here are six types of alternative working arrangements you can pursue.
1. Gig work
Gig work offers flexible scheduling, an independent working environment, and short-term commitments -- which can be an advantage when you're working with difficult clients. And gig work doesn't have to mean driving for Uber. Any short-term, project-based, freelance work qualifies. According to Gig Workers in America by Prudential, gig-only workers are spread across a wide range of sectors, including construction, personal care, sales, business and financial, arts and design, and media and communication.
It's highly likely you have marketable skills, either learned on the job or even from your hobbies. Ask a few trustworthy co-workers for their thoughts on how people in your industry can pick up project work. You can also browse gigs available and gig worker profiles on sites like Behance.net, Fiverr, FlexJobs.com, or Gigster. That will help you determine what types of jobs you might want to pursue and what the going rate is for your skillset.
There isn't a clear, agreed-upon distinction between self-employment and gig work. For our purposes, let's consider self-employment to be a more permanent arrangement than gig work. If you set up shop as a marketing consultant offering retainer-based services, that's more like self-employment and less like gig work. If you have plans to hire an assistant or a contractor to help you, consider that as self-employment, too.
Relative to gig work, self-employment provides more upside and less flexibility. You can spread out your work beyond your own capacity by hiring help, and that means higher income potential. But as you bring on long-term clients and employees, you'll have less free time and increased responsibilities.
3. Part-time work
If you've had a good run with your current employer, you could ask about transitioning into a part-time role. That should be a low-stress move and you might be able to keep some of your benefits, too.
Assuming the pay is sufficient, part-time work has advantages for older workers. You won't have to deal with the uncertainty of building a business or finding gigs, and you'll get a regular paycheck. Even better, you won't be subject to self-employment taxes or quarterly tax payments, which are two distinct downsides of gig work and self-employment.
4. Consulting for a former client or employer
In some industries -- technology, for example -- it's not uncommon for employees to transition into consulting roles for their former employers or clients. These opportunities are easier to get if you have in-depth industry knowledge and you're already known as a problem-solver. It would be even better if your resume says you've led teams through transitions, implemented more efficient processes, or revived a failing business unit.
A consulting arrangement can take the form of a part-time job or a freelance contract. The nature of the work is usually strategic -- you gather information, listen, motivate, and then lead a team to a solution. If you're brought on to address a specific problem, you might produce a report or presentation that summarizes your findings and recommendations. Or you might function as a sounding board for key decision-makers in the organization.
You can do some groundwork now to position yourself for consulting roles later. Look for opportunities in your current role to step up and solve problems or spearhead change. Beef up your LinkedIn profile and start sharing your expertise. Go out of your way to brand yourself as a leader. When you're ready, reach out to your network in search of opportunities.
5. Encore career
If you've never felt completely fulfilled by work, you're due for an encore career. An encore career is a role you pursue because it's particularly meaningful to you.
Say you're a longtime marketing agency project manager and are tired of the demanding clients and relentless focus on the bottom line. But you love the idea of managing outreach for a nonprofit that supports women's causes. What's stopping you from making that switch?
Securing a job you love in your senior years can keep you sharp, too. You'll have built-in social interaction, mental stimulation, and a deep sense of purpose -- three factors that insulate you from the retirement blues.
Put some thought into what your encore career could be. Research those jobs and compare the job descriptions to your own resume. If you have gaps in your qualifications, make a plan to fill them by volunteering, taking classes, or getting a bridge job.
6. Bridge job
A bridge job is a temporary role that fills a gap between your old job and your next phase in life. That next phase in life could be full retirement or an encore career.
If it's full retirement, you need a stable paycheck and a reasonable working environment. Or if your sights are set on an encore career, the right bridge job might be a "foot in the door" with your dream employer or a lower-paying role that provides some very specific experience.
Employment agencies are good sources for bridge jobs. If you interview well, they're often willing to pitch you to the client even if your background isn't an exact match.
Work for more than the pay
You might have changed your retirement timeline for financial reasons, but you don't have to stay in the same grind. You can structure work in your senior years to deliver what you crave, whether that's flexibility, stability, or a greater sense of fulfillment. And if you get it right, you may wonder later why you were so eager to retire anyway.