Majority of baby boomers would opt for semi-retirement if employers only allowed: poll

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The majority of working baby boomers would stay on the job longer if employers allowed them to shift into semi-retirement — but most workplaces don’t provide that option, a new survey suggests.

With unemployment in Canada at record lows and a labour shortage poised to hit critical levels when boomers hang up their hats, semi-retirement could be one way to help manage that crisis.

Since working longer puts more money in people’s wallets when they do retire, that increased spending power would benefit the economy as well.

Conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of staffing agency Express Employment Professionals, the poll found that 76 per cent of Canadian baby boomers respondents said they’d opt for a flexible work schedule if allowed, while 60 per cent would choose reduced hours with reduced benefits.

The online survey of 500 Canadian workers aged 54 to 72 suggests a disconnect between the willingness of the enormous baby boomer cohort to stick around during the labour shortage, and a lack of options for those who’d like a gradual exit from the workplace.

The survey also found that 56 per cent of respondents said they’d like to transition to a consulting-style role, if given the opportunity.

Yet only 30 per cent of the boomers surveyed said their employer offered any sort of semi-retirement option. Additionally, only 36 per cent said their employers had ever brought a former employee out of retirement.

Teresa Pitman says she’d welcome part-time work when she approaches retirement. She’s pictured here with two of her 10 grandchildren: Dexter, left, and Walter, right. (Alison Lee photo)

Teresa Pitman, who works full time as a communications co-ordinator for Family and Children Services of the Waterloo Region, says she’d welcome a semi-retirement arrangement when she’s ready to scale back. 

« I would like to be able to work here part time, and I think that I will continue to have something to contribute, » she said. « I really like the people here that I work for and that I work with. It would be really good to be able to keep that relationship going … but without it being full time. »

Rethinking all-or-nothing retirement

If Pitman wasn’t working full-time, perhaps her hours would be flexible enough to avoid poor road conditions, she says, like the blizzard she drove through on her way to work Friday. 

Her top priority: Spending time with her 10 grandchildren.

« I’d love to have the flexibility to be more available to them, » she said.

Employment experts say we may want to rethink our all-or-nothing definitions of retirement.

Jessica Culo owns several Express Employment franchises in the Edmonton area and is the Canadian spokesperson for the company, which also has locations in the U.S. and South Africa. 

Even though Alberta is still recovering from the provincial recession of 2016 and 2017, she says, even employers there can’t ignore the potential problems posed by a significant increase in retirements in as little as two years from now.

« We all know what it’s like to be in an applicant-short market: It’s expensive, it’s not fun, it inhibits growth, » Culo said. « The leaders of organizations have got to have that foresight. » 

Jessica Culo, of Express Employment Professionals, says baby boomers are willing to mentor younger staffers, but in most cases the structures and practices are just not in place to facilitate that. (Express Employment Professionals)

Putting in place semi-retirement arrangements that could help with the labour shortage will require « being more creative on the side of the employers, » she said.

That could mean allowing older staff members to work flexible hours, a shortened workweek, shorter shifts or working remotely to cut commuting time. It could also include transitioning people into consultancy roles to work on a project basis.

Making room for mentoring

Culo says all of those tools could help address another critical aspect of boomer retirement that the survey highlighted: ensuring critical knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when they do.

Only 40 cent of respondents say they’ve passed at least half of the knowledge required for their positions on to younger staff members, and 51 per cent don’t believe their employers have adequate succession plans.

Culo says boomers are willing to mentor — 82 per cent of poll respondents said as much, in fact — but in most cases they’re not doing it. « Probably because there aren’t really systems or practices or processes that allow for that. »

Rosemary Venne, an associate professor of business at the University of Saskatchewan, says ‘flexibility is not something that employers are good at.’ (University of Saskatchewan)

Part-time workers and consultants could slide nicely into mentoring and training positions, she says, but it may take a mind shift on behalf of management.

« It may mean adding to your overhead by payrolling someone to take on that purely mentorship role. »

In many cases, it won’t even have occurred to employers to extend people’s time at work through semi-retirement, says Rosemary Venne, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business who specializes in human resources and demographics.

« Flexibility is not something that employers are good at, » she said.

Partial retirement is such an ideal thing because more and more of our self-concept is tied up in work. To give that up when you retire is difficult for some people.– Rosemary  Venne , University of Saskatchewan

A 2011 paper she penned with celebrated demographer David Foot, the author of Boom, Bust and Echo, explained that too little attention has been paid to the impact of increasing life expectancy on retirement policies.

The paper — entitled « The long goodbye » — made the case for partial retirement schemes that remove barriers to going part-time, such as pension disincentives.

That makes sense when you consider that in 1965, when the retirement age was set at 65, the average life expectancy was 71.9 years. Today average life expectancy in Canada is around 80 for men and 84 for women.

Keeping a hand in work can be good for emotional health and life satisfaction as well.

« Partial retirement is such an ideal thing, because more and more of our self-concept is tied up in work, » Venne said. « We’ve increased our educational attainment. To give that up when you retire is difficult for some people. »

In some ways, Teresa Pitman is the ideal retiree. She has spent long portions of her career as a freelancer, and as the author of 18 books about baby care, she can turn to her writing career to keep her busy, engaged and sharp.

« I have writing that I’m quite confident that will always continue. But I do know people a bit older than me who are sometimes a little bit at sea. Their life had been organized around work. I just see that they’re not quite sure what to do with themselves. »

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With 4 generations in the workplace, employers expected to juggle vastly different expectations

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For the first time in contemporary history, there are four generations in the workforce — baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and the first of generation Z — human resources experts say. 

With employees ranging in age from their late teens to their 70s, businesses must tailor management styles to the multi-generational workforce.

The wide age gap is « pretty unprecedented, » said Dalhousie University professor Eddy Ng, who teaches human resources management at the Rowe School of Business in Halifax.

« This can become a contentious issue when you have four generations at work with different value sets and expectations of each other. It makes it a bit more challenging for managers to handle. »

Ng said most company policies were written by boomers to reflect their own work style — a standard day at the office  featuring plenty of face time. « Then they had millennials come in and disrupt the workplace. »

They asked for things like flexible work arrangements, and progressive workplaces have adapted, he said.

Eddy Ng, professor and F.C. Manning Chair in Economics and Business at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business in Halifax, said there are some key differences in how millennials and Gen Z were raised that play out in the workplace. (Dalhousie University)

Now, the oldest of those millennials, born between 1981 and 1995, are in their late 30s, said Ng. They’re being joined in the workplace by members of generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010.

Bruce Mayhew, a human resources consultant and trainer, said the workforce of today is both « culturally dynamic » and wide-ranging in age. « Those things are really impacting the way that we communicate, the way we listen, and what we think might motivate the person sitting beside us. »

Different views on loyalty

Given the size of their cohort, boomers have always worked in environments where most people wanted the same things that they did, he said. Advancement up the corporate ladder and loyalty have been two big pillars of the boomer working life.

« When you’re looking at what happened historically, boomers were very loyal, » said Mayhew. « Globalization came and companies started letting people go. »

Some gen Xers and older millennials saw their loyal 50-year-old parents « have their lives completely erupted » by layoffs from companies where they’d worked for two decades or more, he said.

Mayhew said this led gen Xers to conclude: « If they’re not going to be loyal to us, why should we stay? » 

They were the first to move quite freely between workplaces, he said. « Gen Xers would leave for a better job. Millennials will leave and then go find a better job. »

Those experiences also shape the kind of hours and sacrifice younger generations are willing to make for a company.

More importance on lifestyle, impact

Aiman Attar sees that playing out in her work as a recruiter for the real estate industry, hiring mostly executive assistants and other administration staff to support realtors and brokers.

Between the tight labour market and the shifting values of potential hires, Attar said her company has had to do a lot of « re-education » around client expectations and management practices.

Boomer real estate agents are accustomed to working long hours — including plenty of evenings and weekends — with the payoff of big commission cheques in mind, she said. What’s changed is that they can no longer recruit young assistants to work those same hours for $40,000 per year. 

« There are certain expectations that they could get 10 years ago that they can’t get anymore, » she says. « Millennials want work-life balance. A lot of them would like to work from home. They don’t see the need to be at the office. »

Likewise, Attar said realtors would like assistants to stay with them for 10 or 15 years. « But that’s really old school. The younger generations can’t stay in the same position for 10 years. » 

Carly Silberstein is CEO of Redstone Agency, an event and association management firm that employs mostly millennials but partners with a mostly older clientele. She says that success collaborating across generations hinges in part on ‘open-mindedness on everyone’s behalf.’ (Mikaila Kukurudza/The Lace Lens)

Carly Silberstein is CEO of Redstone Agency, an event and association management firm based in Toronto where millennial staffers are partnered with mostly older clientele.

It’s important to understand what motivates younger generations, said Silberstein.

« Millennials and gen Z are just looking for purpose, » she says. « While yes, it’s a paycheque — and having that financial support is definitely important — I think that having purpose and working toward a larger goal of something that’s bigger than themselves is something they’re looking for … in the work that they do. »

Keeping that top of mind is key for attracting and retaining talent, said Silberstein.

Retirement age rising

On the other end of the age spectrum at work, the boomers have changed the way Canadians think about retirement. 

Since 2000, the average retirement age has risen from 61.6 to 63.8, according to Statistics Canada data, and that trend is unlikely to reverse.

« In thinking about this multigenerational workforce, the context of population aging is extremely important, » said Steven Tobin, executive director of the Labour Market Information Council, an Ottawa-based non-profit that helps Canadians navigate the changing world of work. « Our population is aging which means the labour force is expected to shrink. »

That’s particularly problematic given there’s already a labour shortage affecting business in many parts of Canada. Without a full complement of staff, part of the economy could slow.

« To mitigate that slow down, we absolutely must encourage a diverse mix of people to join and stay in the workforce, and age is a critical component of that diversity. »

Think knowledge exchange, not knowledge transfer

When the implications of the aging workforce first began to catch the business world’s attention about 10 years ago, Tobin said the focus was on mitigating the loss of knowledge in the workplace when boomers retire by ensuring that knowledge is passed down to younger workers.

« We thought about this being uni-directional — older workers transferring knowledge to younger workers, » he said.

There is an opportunity and potential to learn from one another, to complement each other and share that respective knowledge and expertise.– Steven Tobin, Labour Market Information Council

Instead, managers need to think about helping different generations of staff to exchange knowledge. One example: technology.

« Given that technology is changing, there are new and different skills being demanded in this economy, » said Tobin. Younger generations can share technical skills, while older generations pass on industry knowledge and overall wisdom about the workplace.

« There is an opportunity and potential to learn from one another, to complement each other and share that respective knowledge and expertise. Each generation brings a unique set of skills that others can benefit from. »

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Sarah McIver was arrested in China due to employer’s error, her aunt believes

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DRUMHELLER, Alta. –The aunt of an Alberta woman who has been released from custody in China says she believes it was a mistake by her niece’s employer that resulted in her arrest.

Sarah McIver was detained earlier this month over a work-permit issue related to her teaching job, but her aunt Rhona McIver says Sarah is now on her way back to her hometown of Drumheller, Alta.


READ MORE:
Canadian teacher Sarah McIver who was detained in China has been released

Rhona McIver said she believes her niece arrived in China to learn that the school she’d planned to teach at no longer had a job for her, so officials gave her work at another school.

“That’s where the mistake got made,” McIver said from Drumheller in an interview Saturday.

“She probably didn’t even think about it.”

WATCH: China travellers face new rules






McIver’s arrest followed those of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians living and working in China, on allegations they were harming China’s national security.

China arrested Kovrig and Spavor separately after Canadian authorities detained a Chinese technology executive in Vancouver. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of electronics giant Huawei Technologies, is wanted in the United States on allegations she lied to American banks as part of an effort to get around sanctions on Iran.

China and Canada both insisted McIver’s case was different from Kovrig’s and Spavor’s.

WATCH: Travel Alberta suspends marketing in China amid the country’s ongoing tensions with Canada






Rhona McIver said Sarah’s mother and sister have driven to B.C. to pick her up. She explained that while in China, McIver adopted a puppy, and even though she was able to fly from China to Canada with the dog, there was a problem flying it to Calgary.

“One morning she was going to school and somebody threw out some pups, so she rescued one,” McIver said, adding they could be back in Drumheller by Saturday evening.

READ MORE: Alberta teacher Sarah McIver detained in China because she was working illegally, spokeswoman says

McIver said her niece like to travel and had been to China before, but only as a tourist.

A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry said last week that a Canadian woman had received an administrative penalty for illegal employment but did not provide further details.

A spokesman with Global Affairs Canada confirmed Friday that a Canadian citizen who was detained in China this month was released and has returned to Canada, but would not release further information due to provisions under the Privacy Act.

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Employers warned of delay in approvals for temporary migrant workers

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Canadian employers hoping to bring in temporary foreign workers should expect long delays in getting federal approvals due to an increased volume of applications, warns Employment and Social Development Canada.

In the first six months of this year, employers applied to bring in 61,088 migrant workers, which was equal to 70 per cent of last year’s total. Demand usually peaks in the last quarter of the year, between October and December. The number of applications last year was 97,053, up almost 11 per cent from 87,765 in 2016.

Anyone who wants to hire temporary foreign workers must obtain a positive labour market impact assessment from Ottawa to show a regional labour shortage and to prove the workers are not taking away jobs from qualified Canadians.

“The temporary foreign worker program is currently experiencing an unanticipated increase in the volume of labour market impact assessment applications,” said Josh Bueckert, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada.

“The department is making every effort to provide the best possible service to employers and is processing the assessment applications as efficiently and accurately as possible to minimize the impact on employers.”

It is not known what led to the surge, but Bueckert said the most significant increases in demand are coming from employers who are offering permanent jobs to migrant workers who are applying for immigration, and families looking for caregivers. The approval process can take as long as two months.

“There are a range of factors that can impact processing times, including those outside of the control of Service Canada, such as the completeness of the application and availability of employers to respond to missing information,” said Bueckert.

He said the government is implementing a number of initiatives to address the backlog, such as workload management, hiring, reallocating and training additional staff.

British Columbia has topped the demand for migrants workers with 20,907 applications submitted, followed by Ontario (17,583) and Quebec (7,754).

According to data from the ministry, the top requested foreign workers in 2018 have come from Mexico (27,500), Jamaica (9,400), Guatemala (7,700), Philippines (6,000), India (4,900), the United States (1,400) and South Korea (1,300).

Canada’s use of temporary foreign workers, most of whom are employed in agriculture, peaked at almost 200,000 in 2012 before the then-Conservative government introduced a series of measures — including raising the application fee from $275 to $1,000 — to crack down on abuses of the program,

The number of migrant workers approved since had dropped annually to just 87,765 in 2016 before the numbers went up again last year.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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