After years in the rat race, many boomers are taking on careers with less pay – but a lot more meaning
July 30, 2008
At 54, he was one year away from his planned retirement and looking forward to getting off the corporate ladder, to spend more time with his wife and daughters, and enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. He planned to write a book and travel the world with his wife, a promise he’d made years before.
Running a non-profit was not in his plans. But the idea slowly took hold of him.
He had been a volunteer with SUCCESS, one of British Columbia’s largest non-profit immigrant settlement organizations, and realized that his fluency in several languages and contacts across ethnic lines could make a difference. He’d already been contacted by a headhunter to help find a new chief executive officer for SUCCESS. When a suitable candidate wasn’t found, Mr. Chan was contacted again – to be interviewed for the job.
He talked it over with his family and started months of soul-searching before accepting the opportunity. “I had to convince my wife to postpone the travel plans,” he says. “But she said: ‘Tung, follow your heart, just go for it.’ “
So, in 2006, he left behind 30 years at TD Bank to become CEO of SUCCESS. It was a huge step down in salary and seniority, Mr. Chan admits. And while the option to retire was tempting, he was glad to work in a field where the results could be measured in ways other than number crunching.
“I loved what I did but I wanted something that was closer to people, where I could make a difference in lives. I had accumulated all this experience and was able to find a social service agency where I could use those skills.”
It’s called the “encore career” – and Mr. Chan is among a growing number of people who are forgoing retirement for less lucrative but more satisfying work later in life.
The term was coined by social entrepreneur and author Marc Freedman, who defines it as a late-in-life career that combines personal meaning and social impact in areas such as the non-profit sector, health care and education.
“People are finding themselves working far longer than previous generations,” Mr. Freedman says. “And so they are asking questions about what kind of work they’re going to do. Is it going to be another 10 years at the grindstone or is it going to be work they’re proud of?”
A U.S. survey by the MetLife Foundation, a social sector funding agency, and the Civic Ventures think tank found that nearly 10 per cent of the 3,500 people aged 44 to 70 surveyed have already launched encore careers. And more than half of the rest want to do so.
According to the study, those pursuing encore careers aren’t retirees; they tend to be between the ages of 51 and 62, are female and they value work-life balance. Those involved in encore careers in the social services sector typically are affluent and university graduates. And 75 per cent said they are earning sufficient income and benefits.
The number of midlife meaning-seekers is growing in Canada, too, as more boomers move out of the work force, says Joseph D’Cruz, a management professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
He says he receives calls monthly from senior business executives looking to move into teaching or the non-profit sector as they’re closing in on retirement.
What’s at work here is the intersection of several social forces, Prof. D’Cruz says. Social enterprises, where the priority is helping people rather than making money, have become a growing force in Canada, championed most recently by former prime minister Paul Martin, and they’re in need of expertise.
People are also living longer and searching for a job with purpose after spending their life in corporate environments, he says.
Bill Young, the CEO of Social Capital Partners, which invests in for-profit companies that hire people on social assistance, took on his encore career after a life in the telecommunications industry.
With major profits pocketed from his investment in Red Hat Inc., an open source software company that hit it big during the dot-com boom, Mr. Young saw an opportunity to do what he had always wanted to do: Give back.
“It wasn’t where I was needed or belonged, it felt like,” Mr. Young says of the booming tech sector in the late 90s. “I was no longer driven by ways of figuring out ways to make more money.”
But these aren’t always easy transitions, says Burnaby, B.C., retirement coach Kristi Nielsen, author of Retirement Inspirement. She coaches retirees through this transition period and often recommends work in the non-profit sector when the situation is right. She advises people to do their homework on the field they’re going to enter and make sure they have the right certifications, if necessary, and background.
But the U.S. survey reports that the majority of those in encore careers haven’t encountered any of the difficulties Ms. Neilsen warns about. Rather, most find their jobs satisfying.
While there is a booming industry in the field of retirement support services, career transition resources that focus on non-profit businesses are lacking in Canada, Prof. D’Cruz says. There just aren’t any dedicated places for people looking to launch significant second careers in an area of social importance, even though such services are desperately needed, he says.
Helen Chandler, 55, followed her heart, although it’s been a circuitous route to get to her encore career. Eight years ago, she was writing software with IBM Canada in Toronto. But she became disillusioned by the work and decided on a whim to move to Nova Scotia, where she’d visited in the past and found herself “inexplicably drawn.”
She moved to Bridgewater, a town of 8,000 on the province’s south shore, but found herself unemployed. The transition was difficult, Ms. Chandler says. She dwelled on what other people thought of her when she was unemployed and fought depression for a short time.
Then Ms. Chandler turned her mind to finding a career where she could give back. She was inspired, she says, after getting involved in Reiki, a Japanese healing practice that focuses on spirituality.
First, she renewed a teaching certificate she’d received decades earlier and began work as a substitute high school teacher. She also applied to work with the Acadia Centre for Social and Business Entrepreneurship, which helped guide her through her own transition. She now also teaches one of its courses aimed at helping older workers transition back to work after they’ve retired or been laid off.
“It took a long time to figure out what was missing,” she says. “But I just wasn’t driven by a personal vision.”
For Mr. Chan. the change of pace was difficult at first. When he tried to race through the first staff meeting, his employees told him he needed to slow down, he says.
But since coming on board Mr. Chan has enacted major structural reform in the non-profit, using the management expertise he gained at the corporate level to forge closer ties between Vancouver’s ethnic communities and marshal resources from a variety of other immigration organizations.
Mr. Chan plans on working until they kick him out, which might be hard, all things considered. He recently donated $100,000 to the organization.
“It’s funny,” Mr. Chan says. “I work way harder now.”
His youngest daughter now teases him that he worked the first half of his life making money while he’s spending the second-half making change.
“I didn’t ever see it that way,” he says. “Maybe she knows more about me than I know myself.”
CASE STUDIES: BRAVO
Here are case studies of three individuals who packed it in from the corporate world to make an encore by heading up worthy causes.
Mr. Young was an executive at Optel Communications Corp. and Hamilton Computers in Toronto before shifting gears in 2000. He had made millions of dollars investing in Red Hat Inc., an open-source software company founded by his cousin, Robert.
In 2001, Mr. Young created Social Capital Partners, which invests in for-profit companies that hire people on social assistance, particularly at-risk youth. The company now has a wide-ranging portfolio, including a property management firm in Vancouver, a renovation business in Winnipeg, and a bicycle courier service in Toronto.
WHY THE CHANGE?
Mr. Young says he wanted to do something every day that made a difference. He saw the small fortune he had made as an investor as an opportunity to change careers – from making money to giving it away to others who shared his social values. “The wheel of fortune spun my way and I was ready for a change to do something I felt actually mattered,” he says.
“Most of all, I love the challenge,” he says. “Any time you’re trying to figure out a new approach to doing things, it’s engaging. There’s a real collective energy to the social sector.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Don’t expect too much too fast, Mr. Young says. “It takes a while to learn a new field and build a new network and find the right people to engage with.”
Ms. Chandler, spent more than 25 years at IBM Canada, writing software programs.
The Acadia Centre for Social and Business Entrepreneurship where she teaches a course aimed at helping older workers make the transition back to work late in life; she also works part-time as a teacher in Bridgewater, N.S.
WHY THE CHANGE?
Ms. Chandler says she became fed-up with the corporate world. “It took a long time to figure out what was missing,” she says. “But I just wasn’t driven by a personal vision.”
The flexibility of the non-profit environment gave Ms. Chandler a freedom she didn’t enjoy in the business world, she says. “I watch too many people accept unsatisfactory situations and allow them to be treated badly because they fear they will lose their jobs.”
But on the downside, the transition was difficult and she fought bouts of depression and relied on part-time jobs, and little money, as she adjusted. “It has been a process of letting go of what the outside world thinks is important and embracing what I believe to be important.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
It’s about taking stock of who you are, she says. “But it’s tough. People have ingrained ways of being that are tough to break. You have to look at it as a spiritual break … not an opportunity to make money.”
He worked in various roles with TD Bank, rising to vice-president before retiring at 59 after 35 years with the organization. His last job was to help mesh the operations of TD Bank with Canada Trust after their merger.
In 2005, Mr. McGrath became the executive director of the food bank at Toronto’s Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, which feeds about 150 people. He works part-time, organizing finances and working on food drives with volunteers. He has begun to re-organize the structure of the charity, focusing more on volunteer recruitment.
WHY THE CHANGE?
“A lot of senior executives do their best work at the board level,” he says, “but there you never see the customer. I wanted to get down a bit from there. If I really had the guts I’d be working on the streets but this seemed like a good fit.”
The toughest part, Mr. McGrath says, is managing. In the corporate world, everyone was moving in the same direction. But now that he’s working with volunteers, the commitment level among individuals can differ and he had to learn to adjust his expectations of what can be accomplished. “There’s not a hierarchy any more,” he said. “And there’s nobody around to delegate the little things to.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“Put some thought into it and only do it if you’re healthy and you have the resources to do it. It’s a different life.” – David Hutton
ENCORES: DO YOU HAVE ONE IN YOU?
Making the transition from the corporate world to the public or non-profit sector can be difficult. Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, has some advice for those considering the change.
PLAN AHEAD: Do your research and test the water by getting your foot in the door at the board level first.
BE PATIENT: Don’t think you’re going to change the world right away. The social sector is slower-moving than the corporate world. In many cases, the job is more difficult, because there are so many more stakeholders to deal with, from the end users to donors, volunteers and government.
TACKLE DEBT: Leaving a job for a lower-paid vocation is best done without the burden of debt. The aim should be to pay it off before you make the move.
ADJUST SPENDING: If a lower-paying job means you’ll have less to live on, make sure this is a lifestyle you’re comfortable with. If you’re too preoccupied with the cut in pay you’ll have to take, for instance, it’s probably not a good idea to switch to a non-profit.
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