Baby Boomers Delaying Retirement Because Work is Fulfilling


In 2007, I wrote an article making the case for law firms to reconsider their mandatory retirement policies. It was partly motivated by a case in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a law firm because equity partners were de-equitized when they reached age 65. Mostly, however, it was inspired by my then 89-year-old father who didn’t hit his professional stride until he reached his mid-60s. He worked until he was forced to retire at 78, and in my eyes, he was sharper, more respected and more productive than he had ever been in his younger days.

As I near my 65th birthday later this year, I can’t help but look back on my life and see how I, too, am at an inflection point in my own career. I have been a legal search consultant for nearly 30 years with Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. I was recently tapped to become the office managing partner of our New York office, the largest of our 26 around the globe. As a consistently high producer in our organization, and given my expertise and profound care for my work family, I believe this appointment is perfectly timed—just when I’m hitting my professional stride.

Working longer

I’m not alone in such a sentiment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that older Americans will account for 57%of the country’s labor-force growth in the coming decade. People are living longer, and thus working longer. But financial necessity isn’t the only factor keeping older employees in the workforce. The pandemic shook up the workforce and made people take a long hard look at their priorities. During that period, I heard from scores of senior legal professionals who began to re-evaluate the tenure of their next professional chapter. Granted, in part, this was based on the fear of losing income, as it appeared that the economy was coming to a standstill. Perhaps, though, upon reflection, it actually had more to do with the fear of losing purpose, engagement, and community in their professions.

Phyllis Korff, an energetic and ambitious senior partner at law firm Mayer Brown in New York, agrees. After an early career as an educator and stay-at-home mom, Phyllis decided to attend law school at 35, graduating from NYU School of Law and eventually becoming a partner at a powerhouse New York firm, where she worked for 33 years. During her tenure, the firm implemented a retirement policy that relegated partners at retirement age to an “of counsel” role. Since Phyllis had always enjoyed the process of winning new clients, she found the new title an obstacle to developing business, fearing that her clients would now view her as “having no skin in the game.” So, she made the move to her current firm and has happily been there for more than five years, continuing to develop and service a robust roster of clients, as well as mentoring and recruiting younger attorneys and playing an active role in community service.

In a similar vein, Mitch Guss has had a 30-year career as a General Counsel for a number of major global chemical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and life science companies. Most recently, he was the GC of Jubilant Pharma, a multinational pharmaceutical company, for eight years before deciding to retire in January 2024. However, early on in “post-retirement,” Mitch thought about General Douglas MacArthur’s final words in his address to the U.S. Congress in 1951—chiefly “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”—and realized he was not quite ready to “fade away.” Mitch’s desire to continue using his unique blend of business acumen—and his ability “to digest, think, and think again” about complex legal issues confronting corporations—remained as keen as ever. As of this writing, Mitch has decided to identify another GC position and is actively discussing new opportunities.

Retirement considerations

The decision about whether to retire—and whether you’re feeling burned out with the role you’re currently in, or with work more broadly—is not an easy one. However, as our workplace norms have undergone tremendous changes in the past five years and counting, it’s no longer a given that people will—or even want to—retire once they hit the somewhat arbitrary age of 65. As you near the traditional retirement age, there are several considerations worth thinking about to determine if you’re truly ready to leave the workforce, or just for the next challenge:

There’s no substitute for experience: With age comes wisdom that is often a rare commodity within an organization. Simply put, during a long career, you’ve had more opportunities than your younger colleagues to experience the greatest teacher of all: failure. That perspective may help the next generation avoid past mistakes, but also gives them a chance to benefit from your hard-won wisdom. And for you as an older, more seasoned professional, the effort to keep failure at bay is what ultimately leads to future success. Having experienced failure in the past, you’re probably more motivated, rather than discouraged, by the opportunity to turn headwinds into tailwinds.

Give retirement a test run by scaling back your hours or trying a new opportunity: If you are feeling dissatisfied, before throwing in the towel entirely, consider a different role in your organization or a consultancy arrangement. I’ve noticed this feeling more with women as they tend to do more juggling with home and work lives. As a result, I’ve actually seen more women look to join boards, especially in the nonprofit sector, to test whether they feel ready to retire entirely or merely seek a fresh way to use their talents. This can be a great middle ground as you take the time to fully consider an extremely important life question. Additionally, it might be helpful to hire a professional coach to think this question through.

Multigenerational mentorship: Of course, more senior professionals can mentor and train younger employees and prepare their company’s next generation of leadership. But, in turn, there’s also a lot that older professionals can learn from their younger colleagues to sharpen their own toolkit. In doing so, they can continue to gain the fulfillment and personal improvement that so many of us desire from our jobs. For instance, millennials tend to be more direct and effective in their workplace communications, which is a skill they can help their older counterparts hone. And there’s an indirect benefit you may be offering to the next generation by staying and thriving in the workforce: According to Yale University research, if you have positive perceptions about aging when you’re young, you’ll live on average 7.5 years longer than those who have negative feelings on the topic.

Multiple studies show that the more connections and engagement one has in life, the longer and healthier your life will be. Most of us have been working for 40-plus hours a week for much of our professional lives and rely on work for not only financial security, but also, at least in part, for personal fulfillment, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and social connections. Older employees still have a lot to give and receive in the workforce. Companies should be proactive about keeping and engaging those workers who still feel up for the challenge. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. And indeed, if in the right professional environment you could feel better now that you are older, then why wouldn’t you choose that?


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