Many seniors aren’t ready to leave the workforce

All hail the working senior! While many rejoice in their freedom from the daily grind, others—like myself—know that it’s not for them.

Canadian census data for 2015 reveals that, at age 65, nearly 54 per cent of men and almost 39 per cent of women worked at some point during the year.  

We embrace work for many reasons.

For Glen Paquette, retirement a few years back didn’t last long. “I stopped working. I believed I had retired,” says the 63-year-old career glazier. “Then I started to physically fall apart. My health deteriorated. I recognized that I needed to get back to work to stay healthy mentally, physically, and financially.”

Paquette has installed windows in some of the highest-profile buildings in Edmonton, including the Provincial Court of Alberta and the Art Gallery of Alberta. The work is demanding, requiring skill and physical strength. It also involves heights. The highest building on Paquette’s resumé, a downtown hotel, is more than 30 stories high.

Widowed in 2018, Paquette says he believes he would have sunk into depression if it wasn’t for work. “Work got me out into the world again. I started trying new things after my wife, Paulette, died.”

Other seniors like Lida Ordonez aren’t ready to make the break yet. Her current full-time job in security is a second career. An artist and former social worker, Ordonez could retire if she wanted. At 69 years of age, she’s just not ready.

Lida Ordonez is just not ready to retire. | Constance Brissenden

“I have a great job. I meet new people every day and that keeps life interesting,” she says. “So many seniors feel isolated and depressed.”

Staying fit is also important. A Jasper Avenue resident, Ordonez rides her bicycle or walks to her job downtown.

Jerry (name changed to protect privacy) works in a convenience store on 118 Avenue. As he registers my purchases, he tells me that he can’t afford to retire. “Every time I turn around, it seems like I’m taxed for something new. They’ll be taxing the lint in my pocket next,” he says with a grin. “I have to keep working.”

John Rhebergen, a former corporate management accountant, retired in 2008 due to health reasons. “Once my health recovered, I thought that it was a real waste that I wasn’t using my skills anymore. If I didn’t use them, they would just lie there and get rusty,” he reflects.

He and his wife Rita are long-time volunteers in their church and in their community. Travelling the world didn’t appeal to either of them.

Soon after he retired, requests for his professional accounting services began to trickle in. “I set criteria for myself for the types of clients I preferred. [I] call it ‘terms of engagement’ regarding what I like and what I don’t like.” Rhebergen now works with a handful of clients, all not-for-profit societies and organizations.

Bicycling to work is one of the incentives for Lida Ordonez to keep working. | Constance Brissenden

Adds the busy senior, “I don’t really know what retirement is without work. The pleasure is not always retiring. The pleasure is deciding whether you wish to or not.”

As for myself, a dyed-in-the-wool workaholic writer, full retirement is not an option. Freelance writing and editing keeps me busy and give me a sense of accomplishment. I’ve even redone my resume for the first time in 20 years, with tips garnered from free courses through the Edmonton Public Library.  

“Know thyself” is an appropriate motto for seniors. You can retire or continue to work, as necessary or desired. After a lifetime of effort, it’s now up to you.

Featured Image: Glen Paquette shares a black and white copy of a 1982 Edmonton Journal article about his work installing windows at the Provincial Court of Alberta. | Constance Brissenden