AD: First, what's the reason for this shift toward mid-career retirement?
RH: We know that people want more control over their lives and, at the same time, want more time in their lives for their families, education, and a bit more leisure. We know that people have all kinds of choices about when, where, and how they work, and that the opportunity to make these choices is going to be available for at least another decade. People are also more inclined to change jobs frequently now, every two to four years; but they are very intense in their investments in work during that time. There's a greater tendency to burn out, or get restless and move on. We realized that a lot of people take breaks in their careers - they've been called sabbaticals. It's happening in the corporate world right now. People take three months, six months, a year off, and then go back to work.
AD: What do people do during those months away from work?
RH: They want that time to be "me time." They'll say, `I'm going to get some more education. I'm going to relax a little bit, spend time with the family, write a book, who knows? Maybe I'll do home schooling, or volunteer work, take the kids around the world. And after I finish that, and I want to go back into the work force, it's not a problem. There will be plenty of jobs out there.' They'll be well-positioned, because while they're relaxing, they're also sharpening their acts. And when they go back into the work force, they can do so much better than anyone who stayed with their nose to the grindstone and got a sore nose.
AD: This may work well for single people or empty-nesters, but what about those workers who have family obligations? How will they make their mid-career retirements fit with their kids' schedules?
RH: Schooling will have to change. Kids will have breaks, and will experience variances in their education. Instead of sending their kids straight through public schools, parents may take some time to home school their kids. Schools will start to set up special travel arrangements so families can take learning vacations together.
AD: What will this mean for marketers?
RH: There will be tremendous demand for a new kind of financial planning service. `How can I save and invest my money so that I can fund my own mid-career retirement?' At this point, there aren't that many employers that are funding this, and even if they are, people don't want to be tied down to go back to that same company.
There will also be demand for all kinds of adventure experiences - education tourism. While people want to relax, they also will want to learn something. There will probably be some degree of guilt - `all of my buddies are working and I'm not.' So while there will be demand for adult education, there will be pressure to get these things done faster. `If I go back to college, perhaps I'll get a mini Master's degree.' There will also be demand for short-term leases on recreational vehicles and vacation home time-shares. There will be more interest in experiences, rather than things.
AD: Will there be any change in the demand for products?
RH: There will be practical areas of consumer demand. For example, what happens when people leave their homes for extended periods of time? There will be opportunities for enhanced security services to do a little more than just make sure the doors are locked.
Imagine if you measured your career in years instead of decades. Imagine if every few years you had the chance to pick up stakes, quit your job, travel the world, go back to school, spend time with your kids, or just sit and stare out the window. And then, after a year or so, re-enter the workplace and launch a brand-new career.
Workplace futurist Roger E. Herman believes that these "mid-career retirements" will soon become a fixture of modern life. Retirement is usually defined as a block of consecutive senior-citizen years. Starting today, and increasingly over the next decade, Herman believes that consumers will instead pepper those retirement years throughout their entire adult lives. In this sporadic style, consumers will stay in the work force well into their golden years, and traditional retirement will become obsolete.
Herman is the CEO of The Herman Group, a Greensboro, North Carolina futurism consultancy that specializes in workplace trends. Over the past two decades, he and his wife, futurist Joyce L. Gioia-Herman, have penned 10 books, most recently How to Become an Employer of Choice (Oakhill Press, 2000). The duo also shares trend insights with clients ranging from Arthur Andersen to Wal-Mart. Herman contends this mid-career retirement trend may transform consumption patterns of everything from financial services to home security systems. American Demographics asked Herman to discuss how the trend is likely to impact consumer behavior.