Achieving Business Success
By Robert L. Bailey
Counting the days until retirement is a near national pastime. "Can't wait until I'm outta here," proclaim many American workers.
But too often when that long-sought goal is reached, retirement turns out not to be the life of fun and leisure that so many envision. Two principal hurdles head the list: money and boredom.
It won't be a surprise when I tell you that it costs a lot to live. So it shouldn't be a surprise when I tell you that it costs a lot to live during retirement too – more than most people can imagine.
When I learned that one of the employees of my former company planned to retire, I would ask, "Do you remember how much money you were making 35 or 40 years ago, when you joined our company?" Most could tell me almost precisely what their salaries were 35 or 40 years ago – often in the $3,500 to $5,000 range.
"If we had offered you an opportunity to retire at 100% of you salary after you had been here a year or two, would you have done it?" I continue. Most said, "You bet! I would have jumped at it."
"How well would you be living today had you retired on 100% of your salary back then?" I ask.
The response is a look of concern – maybe shock.
"I don't know what will happen in our economy over the next 30 to 40 years," I continue, "but it's reasonable to assume that the same set of economic conditions that have existed over the last 30 to 40 years will be repeated over the next 30 to 40 years. There will be high inflation years and low inflation years. But over the long pull the economy will generally repeat itself.
"If you can imagine what it would be like to live today on your salary 30 or 40 years ago, then try to imagine what it might be like living on today's retirement income over the next 30 or 40 years – a period over which you may well live."
"You scare me," one employee said. "I hadn't thought about that," another commented.
I've found that most people approaching retirement haven't given enough thought to the financial demands that retirement will bring. It's also a fact that most people have not accumulated enough wealth to finance a comfortable retirement.
There are only a few alternatives to the financial constraints that retirement brings – die early (not an option I would recommend); work a few extra years, and don't even think about early retirement; plan on a second career (not a bad choice, incidentally); or brace yourself for some meager retirement years.
For some retirees, it's not concerns about money that hamper their retirement style. It's boredom. They need a purpose and a worthwhile mission beyond taking up space on this earth. Over the past few weeks, I've met retirees – many of whom had served in responsible and well-paying jobs in business – who are actively involved in second careers. A retired airline pilot is working at a home improvement store; another airline retiree is a waiter (and a darn good one); others have started their own small businesses; some are supermarket cashiers or baggers and are enjoying the interaction with people; and one (me) became a full-time professional public speaker and writer.
The second career is a necessity for some. They need the money to finance a comfortable retirement, pure and simple. Others need challenge and stimulation.
Not long ago I was the only passenger in a rental car van, driven by a man who appeared to be in his late 50s or early 60s. I struck up a conversation, and he explained that he had retired from a well-known local company and traveled extensively for two or three months and got that out of his system. Then he watched TV and pursued his "honey do" list for another six months, "and I started to go out of my mind. So I took this job driving a rental car van about six months ago."
"How do you like it?" I asked. "I like it a lot – I meet a lot of interesting people," he responded.
"Did you ever meet any interesting people on your old job?" I continued.
"I don't know. I never thought about it."
There are many dimensions of leadership. One of those dimensions is to help people find challenge and stimulation in their jobs and to help them build personal relationships that they can value through the years. If we're successful in doing this, employees will not see the need to count the days until retirement.
Another dimension of leadership is to help our people build a retirement nest egg to finance a comfortable retirement by participating in 401K and other voluntary retirement plans. It shouldn't be a surprise that Social Security will not pay for a life of luxury and leisure. I often told employees of my former company, "If you're not smart enough to participate in our 401K plan, you're not smart enough to work here." Still, about 15% of our people did not participate. And, yes, they were probably not smart enough to work there.
Still another challenge of leadership is to build a culture of employee involvement. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team. They want to be a part of a worthwhile mission. They want to know what's going on in the industry and what the competition is up to. They want to be able to make significant contributions to the success of the company.
Great leaders can build a team of committed people who are not counting the days until retirement. This team can virtually guarantee the success of our companies. It's up to us to build the required leadership skills.