A growing number of Australians are embracing semi-retirement, demographers and advisers say. Among them is Sheena Wilson, 67, who called it quits on her role as global head of talent strategy at BNY Mellon in 2014. It was the end of her time on the “single-company career ladder” but the start of what she calls her “portfolio career”.
Today, Wilson balances responsibilities as a leadership and career consultant, non-executive director, and founding director of Parents on Leave, which helps mums and dads returning to work after having a baby. When her granddaughters were younger, she also made sure she had at least a day carved out a week to spend with them.
It’s a portfolio of roles that, taken together, mean that some weeks Wilson feels even busier than she did while traditionally employed – in a good way.
“Work still consumes about 75 per cent of my weekly time, sometimes 100 per cent and sometimes less, but that’s exactly how I’ve chosen to manage my work-life in this stage of my career,” she says.
Over the past three decades there has been a marked shift in how people retire, according to KPMG director of demographics Terry Rawnsley, with a two or three-year period of semi-retirement becoming the norm for a growing number of people.
Hitting 65 is no more about working five days a week and then saying “see you later”. It’s about slipping down to four, then three and then maybe two days a week, Rawnsley says.
The lockdowns also highlighted to many workers in professional jobs that they could semi-retire and work part-time from home or even from the beach.
“A lot of it does look to be not about the financial imperative, but about, ‘I enjoy my work, I love to engage with people on a regular basis’,” Rawnsley said.
It could also be choosing to take extended periods off, before coming back, he says. Or, it could be about taking the time to pursue a passion project, or start a small business.
Financial adviser and principal at Plan For Your Future Helen Nan says most of her clients now go through a period of semi-retirement before completely leaving work behind.
While finances may play a part in it, it’s more often due to a desire to keep busy and fill their time with activities that they deem important. This is good thing, as she’s also seen people leave work, grow bored over the COVID-19 pandemic, and return.
“They had too much time on their hands, and literally not have enough things to do,” she says.
Mr Rawnsley agrees, terming it the “great unretirement”, which occurred during the pandemic.
“The Australian labour market grew by 537,000 people, and about a third of those people were over 55,” he says.
“It was this big surge of people over 55 coming out of the labour force and back into the labour force, whether they were retired or marginally attached to the labour forces.”
Wilson, who regularly advises people and in particular women on navigating the later stages of their careers, says it’s critical workers do regular audits of both their skills and desires, to ensure they’re awake to possibilities inside and outside of paid work, and avoid retirement regret.
“We don’t often take that time to really stop and reflect on where it is we want to go next, what we might want to do,” she says. “We get so absorbed in the day to day, so what we’re doing through Women on Boards [of which Wilson is a director] is really providing a framework … for people to invest a bit of time on themselves.”