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What's on workers' retirement bucket list? Work

You, retire? No way.

Only a quarter of employees say they do not plan to work in retirement, according to a new Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey of 4,161 workers. Half say they expect to work at least part time. The rest weren't sure.

"Working in retirement is becoming the new reality," said Catherine Collinson, the center's president.


The driving reason for many: financial concerns of some kind.

A little more than a third of workers in the survey said they were not confident in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, while 20 percent said they have not yet begun to recover or may never recover from the Great Recession. Asked about their retirement fears (respondents could pick multiple answers), 51 percent cited outliving their savings and 47 percent, reduced or eliminated Social Security benefits.

Despite those concerns, not all workers are despairing about their retirement prospects — only 22 percent expect to work until they can't, according to the survey. Forty-two percent say they plan to transition into retirement by working less or working in a less-demanding role, and 23 percent have a "planned stop" based on a particular age or financial goal.

Plus, for at least a few people, a working retirement is part of their bucket list. Asked how they "dream" of spending retirement (respondents could pick multiple answers), 13 percent told Transamerica pursuing an encore career, 12 percent said continuing to work in the same field and 11 percent said starting a business.

(To compare, 65 percent said traveling, 56 percent said spending time with family and friends and 49 percent said pursuing hobbies.)

"It's no longer the one-size-fits-all retirement where you're going full blast one day and doing nothing the next," Collinson said.

When it comes to retirement planning, however, don't rely on the idea that you'll continue working. Events like a layoff or health problems — yours, or a family member's — could push you out of the workforce sooner than expected, said certified financial planner Mark LaSpisa, president of Vermillion Financial Advisors in South Barrington, Illinois.

"There's a little misnomer that we all get to pick when we retire," he said. "Most people don't. Therefore, they need to plan for the unexpected."

That might mean having some sense of how your retirement income would change if you were to retire sooner than expected, said LaSpisa. Look for ways to save more now or reduce your cost of living so that working longer is less of a key element in the plan.

Workers may also need to reconsider how they juggle retirement with other big financial decisions like paying for a child's college education, he said. It might be better to focus on preserving and growing your own savings with the aim of helping your child with loans later, than to curtail retirement savings in favor of paying tuition.

It's also important to take some preventive measures to improve the chances that you'll be able to work as long as you like, said Collinson — for example, staying healthy and keeping your job skills up to date. In the survey, just half of workers said they were taking the proactive step of performing well at their current job and 42 percent were keeping their job skills up to date, rates she called "alarmingly low."

"The key to success at any job — past, present or future — is ensuring that you are performing well," Collinson said.