Many baby boomers reluctant to retire

The number of seniors of retirement age is expected to more than double to 71.5 million by 2030, when the last of the baby boomers turn 65, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

According to a Gallup Poll published in October, more seniors are continuing to work or seek jobs. The percentage of Americans 65 and older in the workforce jumped 3 percentage points, from 22 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2013. Included are those working full time or part time, and those who are unemployed but actively seeking a job.

Top 5 reasons seniors continue to work:

  • Need the money
  • Enjoy the job
  • Save more for retirement
  • Feel useful
  • Pay for health costs for self and family

Source: AARP Survey “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013. Snapshot of the Wants and Needs of Older Workers”

As 2013 ended, Becky Webster completed her goodbyes as president and chief executive officer of Lenbrook Continuing Care Retirement Community and walked out the door toward her own retirement.

It is her third attempt at leaving the workforce, and at age 67, this baby boomer is determined to stay out of the job market, at least for a while.

“For now, I’m not going to agree to do anything. I’m going to take time to unwind and refresh myself,” said Webster as she wrapped up her executive duties at the nonprofit senior residential community in Buckhead.

Moving into retirement has never been easy for any generation, and baby boomers are no exception. Many are reluctant to step down. One-fourth of America’s workforce last year was made up of ages 65 and older, according to a Gallop Poll. This includes adults working full or part time, and those actively seeking a job.

Older workers stay on the job for financial reasons, but also because they enjoy what they do and it makes them feel useful, according to an AARP survey.

For Webster, going back to work was more “mission driven” than anything else. She encourages retirees thinking about a second act to make sure it’s a job they’re passionate about.

“If you go back it needs to be something that’s worth it to you,” Webster said. “There needs to be a connection between the heart and what the organization is doing.”

Retirees are often viewed as a potential resource, she said, so job opportunities are bound to come. Her advice is to take time off, then be choosy about any offers. There’s something freeing about being able to define your own calendar, so don’t give that up to just anyone, she said.

Webster and her husband, Dwight, recently retired as a church minister, have been married 48 years. With five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, there’s no shortage of activities to keep them busy.

Webster first retired in 2003 after serving as chief operating officer of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Only 56 at the time, it was the early retirement she’d always hoped for.

“My intention was to relax, focus on hobbies and volunteer work,” she remembered.

About six months later Webster began serving on Lenbrook’s board of directors. Then, she put her retirement on hold altogether to take over a consulting business for a friend battling cancer.

After her friend passed away in 2007, Webster shut down the business and retired for a second time while still maintaining her board responsibilities.

It was a busy time at Lenbrook. The retirement community was in the midst of a major expansion and Webster had been named chair-elect of the board. Just as the new wing of apartment homes was slated to open, the economy tanked and Lenbrook’s CEO retired unexpectedly.

As the board began a national search for a CEO replacement, Webster was approached by several members to take the job herself. She had 22 years of experience in pediatrics, but none in geriatrics.

After praying about it and talking it over with her husband, Webster agreed to take the helm for the next five years.

“At the time we had low occupancy, higher expenses and significant debt,” she said. “The people at Lenbrook were unbelievable. They rallied behind me as a leader. We hired a seasoned CFO with experience in retirement communities, and then set measurable outcomes.”

After five years, Webster said she’s leaving at a good time. Lenbrook brought down its debt, re-earned accreditation and Medicare certification and increased residential satisfaction and occupation.

“I feel great. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do,” Webster said. “It’s important to know when you’re led to do something, and then when it’s time to walk away and let someone else take it over.”