Providers Prepare for the Next Big Thing: Working in Retirement

January 14, 2015, Cassandra Dowell, Senior Housing News - A growing number of senior living residents are seeing opportunities to further their careers or pursue new passions in their later years. In fact, while 65 has traditionally been the magic age for retirement, the majority of Baby Boomers today plan to work past the age of 65.

Of those still working, more expect to retire after age 65 (43%) than before age 65 (16%). And just two in 10 (19%) expect to retire at age 65, according to a recent study commissioned by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement.

The numbers point to a growing trend of residents continuing to work while living in a senior living environment, industry experts say. That means senior living providers are having to adapt to meet the needs of this growing population. Here are three ways the industry is helping residents pursue employment endeavors, while tackling the pervasive stereotype of "grandma's nursing home."

1. Provide transportation to work off site

The Clare, an urban Chicago continuing care retirement community (CCRC), offers transportation via a town car and driver all to residents, and an increasing number have utilized the service for work- or volunteer-related endeavours.

In fact, a second town car will be added in 2015 to meet increased demand, says Kyle Exline, executive director of the luxury senior living community.

"We have several residents who want to and can work," he says.

For example, resident Dr. Steven Andres, who has lived at The Clare for two years, continues to operate the four veterinary clinics he owns in the downtown Chicago area.

In addition to professional work, The Clare's transportation services take residents to and from everything in the city from doctor's appointments to museum trips.

There is no additional cost to residents traveling within a five-mile radius, which covers most attractions in the downtown and surrounding area.

"While some residents certainly want to retire, we're seeing that as we get younger residents they want to continue to be involved in the Chicago community," he says. "So, we're having those initial conversations with that current resident or prospect about the things we can do to make their life better. We're saying, ‘We have transportation to take you to and from work, we have a five-star chef to pamper you' — we're highlighting those amenities that can make their working life better."

2. Create employment opportunities within the organization

At Messiah Lifeways, a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based nonprofit organization that provides a network of services for those 55 and older — including two senior living communities — some residents have found employment opportunities within community walls.

Residents have worked at Messiah Lifeways in different capacities, including as receptionists, companion aids and shuttle bus drivers, says Matt Gallardo, director of community engagement and life coach at Messiah Lifeways, adding that residents also continue to teach, mentor or volunteer their services.

Messiah Lifeways' resident communities include Messiah Lifeways at Messiah Village, a CCRC, and Messiah Lifeways at Mount Joy Country Homes, an active adult community for adults 55 and older.

Having residents work within the organization inspires others to become more involved in the community, Gallardo says.

"They see their peers or even someone older than them still working and being productive and it's meaningful to them," he says.

In addition, Messiah Lifeways' coaching program, created in 2012, helps older adults looking for work and/or volunteer opportunities by connecting them to resources for job or volunteer placement, as well as career development, in addition to providing other resources.

"We wanted to provide guidance, advocacy and hope for individuals on their journey of aging," he says.

Promoting work in senior living also challenges looming stereotypes about senior housing.

"We look to break the stereotypes about growing older and celebrate it as a time of zest, purpose and new opportunity," he says, noting that negative stereotypes cast an image of a "weak, or degenerating population."

"Therefore, embracing the idea of working in the latter stages of life and launching a second act, or encore career, for residents of Messiah Village is starting to emerge," he says.

Gallardo points to the approaching wave of aging Baby Boomers and Americans living longer than ever as pushing the trend of working into one's later years. Life expectancy in the United States rose to 78.8 in 2012 — setting a record high.

"This has created a continually growing span between retirement age and death, therefore fostering encore careers or second acts to provide older adults with meaning and purpose," he says.

3. Offer work spaces on campus

A growing number of senior living communities are also considering the entrepreneurial resident in their private units and common spaces.

"What we're doing in many of our senior living apartments is what would typically be a two-bedroom is actually a one-bedroom with a flexible den that can also serve as a home office," says James Warner, founding principal of JSA, an architecture and design firm. "The doors to the den could be double doors, pocket or swinging to suggest an extension of the living room, with a fold-out couch providing flexible office/living space."

While private units are seeing an uptick in one-bedroom plus a den space or related layouts, Warner also emphasizes the need for areas that can serve as professional meeting spaces.

JSA oversaw the building design of North Hill Needham, Inc.'s True North initiative. North Hill, a CCRC in Needham, Mass., recently underwent a multimillion dollar investment in expanded services, amenities and experiences for residents in all levels of care, as well as facilities and other improvements.

As part of the renovation, a large conference center was established that can accommodate up to 50 people for trustee, staff and resident use. Adjacent to the conference center is a business center specifically dedicated for resident use, with both Apple and PC computers as well as telephone, fax and copier.

North Hill also hosts monthly local chapter meetings of national nonprofit Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE), of which many residents are members, says Kevin Burke, North Hill's CEO, pointing to the need for shared work spaces for that organization as well as other nonprofit groups. SCORE members volunteer their time to help small businesses solve problems.

"There has been a distinct increase in the number of residents that remain active in the workforce," he says. "We believe that occupation, in every form, is part of whole person wellness. To be engaged in an activity that is productive provides an individual with a sense of purpose."

In addition, offering a secure wireless network throughout campus is key to support the increasingly tech-savvy resident, Warner says, noting that residents may prefer to work on their mobile tablets or smartphones in a variety of campus locations.

The bottom line? The more options residents have to pursue their passions, the better.

"Residents need a space if they want to sit down in their bathrobe, work on something and not have to go out in public," he says. "And they need a formal location when they want to collaborate with someone else, or meet formally with clients."