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This blog is about retirement and how it can be unhealthy. We should review how we look at age.

Working Age

I suggest to change the meaning of “working age”. Working age is not the age as of which someone is allowed to work. It’s the age until someone is able to work. And there should be no upper limits to that age.
As we need tow work longer, we will need to obliterate the notion of obligatory pension. Retirement should not be an automatic event. Some people are unable to work longer, others are. But it requires a decision and deliberation. Everyone who is still fit enough to contribute to society, should do so.
That contribution at older age can take many forms. It’s a good idea to adapt working habits to the working age. And it’s a better idea to start early in the career.

Retirement is not healthy

We all know of people who died shortly after they retired. The common reaction to that kind of sad events is “too bad he could not enjoy his retirement longer than that”. Research by the Institute of Economic Affairs in the UK shows that retirement is indeed not healthy for people. These are some of the results

  • Retirement decreases the likelihood of been in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by 40 percent.
  • Retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60 per cent.

What can we do?

Now what does that mean? Does it mean that retirement kills? And what should governments do?

  • As life expectancy increases and people have a higher probability of being healthy at the age of 65, the retirement age should be reviewed. Many countries have done so already. This is not only a budgetary measure, it’s also a health measure.
  • As we need to work longer, we need to review the way we look at careers. The linear chimney or tunnel career is not sustainable. People cannot work during 50 or 60 years in the same professional environment. We need to develop hybrid career paths, portfolio careers.
  • We need to integrate phases of rest, study and work. Today we still see careers as a sequence of study, work and retirement. retirement is then seen as the return on investment, the reward, the liberation.
  • Retirement should be avoided and if this is not possible it needs to be better prepared. Let’s think about unretirement.


Chris Farrell talks about Unretirement. But I do not like the word. Retirement is a good thing for those who need it. But we should not take that for granted. Working longer is a good way to keep people healthy and have them contribute longer to the prosperity of a society. The claim that these workers are stealing away jobs from the younger is incorrect. Reducing youth unemployment is a challenge, but another one. Younger people bring other qualities to the labour market than older workers, and vice versa. The jobs older people are able and willing to do, are less available to younger people. So we should not try to solve one challenge by forcing people into a state of inactivity. that’s a waste of human energy.

Change the Way we look at Age(ing)

If we want to change the way we look at working age, we also need to change the way we look at age in itself. The video below is a good example of how we can break stereotypical thinking about age and growing older.

Ageing is not necessarily a proces of decay. If we are able to change the way we look at age, we might be able to change the way we look at working age. Retirement is not a good thing for everyone at a fixed time. If only we could personalise the end-of-career and enable and motivate people to keep on contributing to society, we might solve a part of the retirement problems we are facing.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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