Just what to do after work?

The global financial crash of 2008 not only diminished the savings of workers nearing retirement, but it also altered mindsets about the work cycle. In America, most people have to work their way back to the point where they originally had been ready to call it a day. With welfarism squeezed after the Clinton reforms and European workers being put on notice of a tightening of benefits, retirement is becoming a misnomer in the West. Workers are bracing themselves to continue on the job for as long as they have to.

Singaporeans will need to be no less realistic about what essentially is now a life choice and less of a mandated cut- off. Workers here are denied a margin of cushion as the economy is more exposed than most to external shocks. Job security is less assured as downturn cycles get shorter between recessions. With Central Provident Fund retirement savings pitched at a bare living minimum, on current configurations, longer working careers will increasingly be their lot if they wish to have a reasonable level of comfort when the income stops.

But a snapshot poll by Randstad, a recruitment firm, found that four in 10 respondents wanted to be able to retire at 55. One must suppose this is more wishful thinking than a considered judgment, taking into account ever rising living and health-care costs, paying for children's tertiary education and a little margin left for indulgences, like travel. Not to mention that more people are living longer these days and so will have to make whatever retirement funds they have stretch for longer. Most respondents were sensible but it is significant that even among them, their favoured stop-work age of 60 is two years short of the official retirement age of 62. Unofficially, better performing workers can expect to be active until age 67, where the re-employment bar could be raised to from the present 65.

Two points arising from such surveys are worth pondering. If these imply negative perceptions about continued job availability for seniors, there is work to do for employers and state planners. Is there employer resistance to keeping older workers despite mandated re-employment? But if findings are indicative of an aspiration, Singaporeans must be prepared for the adjustment. How they might fill their time would be as relevant a consideration as knowing if there is enough money to retire on in a relatively expensive city. Would they be content with an idle existence for two or more decades? When the golfing and buddy-lunch routine become stale and reading unread books turns out to be more chore than pleasure, reality will strike home with a vengeance. To enjoy their retirement years, workers might have to invest time and effort to develop hobbies and pastimes that they might engage in meaningfully. It is also important for seniors to remain connected so that they are not isolated from other people as well as developments of the day.