The suicide rate for both men and women approaching retirement age (55-64 yrs) has risen by over 50% in the last 10 years. Why this group? Baby boomers – of all groups. The great promise of reward for effort is deserting some of us. The need to adapt is an evolutionary imperative, but some are reaching this stage of life, and believe adaptation is beyond them.

Where suicide may be driven by feelings of being worthless, helpless and hopeless, “job security” has promised relief and created dependency. Now it has been exposed as not only the big lie, but the perfect anaesthetic – an opium of the masses – masking vulnerability. This is not new – the company doesn’t love you back.

We live in a unique period in history where our average lifespan has increased to 80+, but people are still thinking the old way, like they will die shortly after retirement. The old way of thinking, as if a lifespan to 70, suggests you only need enough superannuation for a few years; that you can be overweight and it won’t bother you for long; and that there won’t be enough time to get bored.

The new mental challenge of a longer lifespan is planning. Damn it – I thought old age was all about not having to plan anything anymore.

  • Will your superannuation keep you for 30 years – is it big enough?
  • Will your health sustain you for 30 years – are you mobile, with a good diet?
  • What will you do with boredom – can you sit on the sofa for 30 years?

We may have thought of life and career as 20/40/60. Leave home at 20, get married and build career till 40. Kick out the kids, then pay off the debts. Approaching 60 and in early retirement, you’d take your trip to Europe, before a heart attack took you.

These days, its looking like 30/60/90 is more representative. Choose a life partner and family from 30 after global travel or career establishment. Family and career through to 60, and then what? 30 years of nothing?

These types of issues are serious enough for there to be an increase in the rate of suicide for this particular demographic. And this only hints at the silent, confused unhappiness being endured by many when they ‘arrive’ and wonder why the party hasn’t started.

60 is the new 40, and all the more confusing because of it.

Even though research  shows that a typical working life will involve 5 careers and 17 employers, there remains right now a generation still living in single employer and single career mindsets, with one-dimensional plans for how retirement will work. They are surrounded by change, don’t think about it much, hoping to get through without being affected. But the speed of change has beaten many of them. New thinking is required – its not too late – but it is urgent.

The hardest part is reaching them before the hammer blow hits. Unhappy and undiagnosed mental ill-health, surviving and battling on, leaves us vulnerable when a redundancy happens, or a divorce, or an illness.

  • Re-assess your superannuation and lifestyle needs.
  • Get a health check – get your weight, drinking and smoking under control.
  • Reconnect with your family, and long lost best friends.
  • Find something new to do, that interests and challenges you.
  • And as for that interest – you haven’t found it until you’re saying “Hell yeah! Why wasn’t I doing this years ago?”

You’ve got more time than you think, and an unprecedented range of possibilities.

How will you finish your working life? Will you still be building and creating, or floating to old age like a twig on the ebb tide? Those last 10 years of work are not the slow down they once were.

The old narrative was that these were the glory years – working, building up wealth, kid-free independence, enjoy the grandkids, give them back, second honeymoon or even second marriage.

These days there is still a lot to do – pay off debt, build financial security, see off the kids, stay employed. And at 50 that may be harder than it looks. Redundancy, redeployment may force your hand to come up with something else – but what else? What could you do apart from what you are doing now? How much do you love what you are doing now anyway? In the meantime, just hang in there?
‘Hanging in there’ sounds a lot like hoping – and hope is not a strategy. What is your back-up plan? You need one – for these reasons. Your employment is not secure like it was. Getting another job at 50 is a challenge for all 50 yr olds. Maybe you don’t love what you do anymore – even more vulnerable now.
Its time to come up with something else – now – while you are working, while you are secure.
I can help.

This is for HR, its about your 50 year old men, at work, but without their job, keeping a seat warm until something comes up. Some will get work, but there is a subset of this audience, who’s needs are not being met.

They are 30 year employees, have never worked anywhere else, unskilled in job search, but now have the clock ticking while they pull themselves together. Behind them are their family. All this we know, but our strategies to address this remain one-dimensional.

What jobs do we imagine 30 year veterans can get, when the whole industry is rationalising? How much positive energy, for how long, do we expect displaced employees to show when faced with confronting financial and personal risk??

Right now, our strategies do not match the empathy.

What are the challenges these men face? They could include… fear of the unknown, financial pressure, role confusion (breadwinner?), work identity (engineer?), loss of face, self-blaming self-talk or cynical sarcastic leadership knocking, job search drowning, isolation from work colleagues, alcoholism, psychotic episodes, suicide.

Men, this close to disaster, deserve more.
A small minority. What’s the risk?
What’s this about… risk, or empathy, or a community-minded social responsibility.

We can serve these needs, of all parties, better.