by Joe Casey
When it comes to planning for retirement are you an optimist, pessimist or a realist? I consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool Optimist. But there’s no doubt that a lot can go wrong.
That’s why we have so much insurance. It’s necessary to protect against the risks we all face in life.
Yet there’s another risk that may not be high enough on your radar.
What if you have to retire earlier than you’re planning to?
You may be thinking I have a solid financial plan for my retirement. I have it all mapped out. Look at my spreadsheets, all of my calculations and my Monte Carlo simulations! What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, as it turns out. The timing of your retirement may not be up to you.
Cruising Toward Retirement
The 19th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers was published this month. An extensive survey of 5,168 workers, it highlights that 74% of all workers do not have a Back-Up Plan for what they will do if retirement arrives earlier than they have planned.
But Many People Retire Earlier Than Planned
The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey has consistently noted that while employees report a median desired retirement age of 65, the median age of actual retirement remains at 62.
A Surprising Percentage of People are Forced into Retirement
There’s a lot to be said for being disciplined in retirement planning. But the fact is that life often intervenes. You can – and should – plan for retirement, but when you retire, it may be determined by factors beyond your plan. For many years, the EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey has also noted that 48 % of retirees are forced to leave earlier than planned, due to events such as hardships including disability, health issues, or changes at their company. A study published by ProPublica and The Urban Institute in December 2018, based on data from the Health and Retirement Study, found that 56% of people in the study who are 50 and older are laid off at least once or are pushed out. They note that the financial impact can be significant – only 10% have returned to their previous level of income.Ok, let me get this straight. You have six different insurance policies, but you don't have a back-up plan if you're forced to retire earlier than planned? Click To Tweet
In my work as an executive coach and retirement coach, I often hear people wonder When Will I Retire? It’s wise to also ask How Can I Prepare for a Forced Early Retirement? I retired early at 52 when the company I worked at for 26 years was acquired. Based on that experience and recommendations from experts, here are five non-financial steps you can take now to best position you should you be faced with an earlier retirement than planned.
1. Invest in Your Performance
Do whatever you can to be a top performer at your job. Stay current. Stand out. Contribute ideas. Be a ‘go to’ person in your company. Go out of your way to help others. These things matter. While they won’t guarantee protection against a forced retirement, as a former HR leader, I can assure you that they will enhance your reputation – and being viewed as a top performer can help you be retained or lead to more options for you.
2. Invest in Your Network
Make time to build and strengthen your professional network – in both the virtual and “real” world. This seems hard to do when you’re immersed in your job, but when you make it a goal, you’ll quickly begin to see opportunities to do so all around you. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Take advantage of opportunities to connect with your colleagues across your industry. Attend conferences when you can and make new connections. Once a month, reach out to someone who you know to catch up – or to seek advice from. Even the busiest people I work with can find time to do this – and it goes a long way. If you’re forced to retire early, it’s your network that will be the key to your next move.
Take time to cultivate it. Stephen Covey contrasted the practice of cramming for an exam in school with The Law of the FarmHe told a story about an impatient gardener who opted for the cramming approach to accelerate the process of growing his new vegetable garden. He tripled the watering, quadrupled the Miracle-Gro, and installed sunlamps to run at midnight. But some things just can’t be sped up. Networking is like that – it doesn’t work well when you’re forcing it and you’re in a hurry. It’s a Law of the Farm thing. Start early, tend to it consistently at a reasonable pace and a strong network will be there when you need it.
3. Invest in Learning
What are your beliefs about education? Is it something you’ve been done with for years – or an ongoing lifelong process? It’s easier than ever today to take a class on something you’re interested in learning about. How about something that will help advance your skillset? It may also broaden your perspective and help you see your job differently. An added bonus is that it can also expand your network.
4. Invest in Wellness
When it comes to wellness, there are things that are beyond your control. But many of us can influence “modifiable factors” that can improve our health and tip the odds in our favor. Kerry Hannon, author and AARP’S Jobs Expert, joined our podcast and discussed her recommended fitness plan and how it can help with employment prospects:
“Have a fitness regime, eat with eye to nutrition and health. What happens, it’s so amazing, when you’re physically fit, you have this energy. You have this ‘can do’ spirit, this positivity. People want to be around you. They want you to be on their team. Hiring managers see that.”
5. Invest in Mapping Out Future Scenarios
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the authors of Designing Your Life have created a smart way to take the planning of your future to the next level. Rather than focusing on a plan with a single path (like most of us do), they advocate mapping out three alternative scenarios over the next 3 to 5 years – your primary desired path; an alternative one if the primary one is not available – and then a Wild Card version of what you’d love to do if there were no limitations. Their method of creating Oddessy Plans expands your thinking and generates new possibilities to prototype using the principles of design thinking.  It can help you think through options that you can begin to build the groundwork for ahead of time – and be prepared to pivot.
Life may be too risky without various forms of insurance. You also don’t want to be in a position where being on track to retire becomes jeopardized if you’re forced to transition to retirement before you’re ready. Just like you’re doing with saving for retirement, make some savvy non-financial investments to ensure that you have an alternative plan, and protect your path to retirement.
Joe Casey is a former HR executive, who’s transitioned to a second career as an executive and retirement coach. As a Certified Designing Your Life Coach, he works with people to help them discover what’s next after their primary career. Learn more at retirementwisdom.com
 Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster.
 Burnett, W., & Evans, D. J. (2016). Designing your life: How to build a well-lived, joyful life. Knopf.