The author and retirement expert discusses remote work during and after the pandemic, employment for midlife and older workers, and financial advice for women.
Our guest on the podcast is author and retirement expert Kerry Hannon. Hannon has written 14 books thus far. Her latest is called Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working from Home. She is also a regular contributor to The New York Times, MarketWatch, and Forbes and is the personal finance and entrepreneurship expert on the PBS website NextAvenue.org. Hannon's work focuses on career, financial, and life guidance for midlife workers. She has also written extensively about how women can take charge of their own financial planning. Hannon is a former National Press Foundation Fellow and a former Fellow of the Columbia Journalism School and the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center's Age Boom Academy. She is also a former MetLife Foundation and New America Media Fellow on Aging. She received a bachelor's degree from Duke University.
Kerry Hannon bio
Kerry Hannon books
"10 Tips To Be a Successful Remote Worker," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Oct. 3, 2020.
"Coronavirus Suddenly Transformed the Workplace," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, May 31, 2020.
"ProBoomer Interview: Work From Home Tips," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, May 24, 2020.
"Is Working Remote a Blessing or Burden? Weighing the Pros and the Cons," by Bryan Robinson, Forbes, June 19, 2020.
"These Simple Habits Can Stop Work-From-Home Burnout," by Kerry Hannon, MarketWatch, Sept. 10, 2020.
"I've Been Working From Home for Years--This Is How to Do It Successfully," by Kerry Hannon, MarketWatch, March 21, 2020.
"Work From Home Is Here to Stay, but It May Put Younger Workers at a Disadvantage," by Juliana Kaplan and Hillary Hoffower, Business Insider, May 29, 2020.
Midlife and Older Workers
"Tips for Finding a Job When You're Over 50," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Oct. 18, 2020.
"Why Working From Home Benefits Older Workers--and Their Employers," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, July 12, 2020.
"Prepare Yourself for the New Job Market," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, June 6, 2020.
"Sorry, 'OK, Boomer'--Workplaces of the Future Will Be Multigenerational," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Feb. 19, 2020.
"Here's Why the Workplace of the Future Must Include Older Workers," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Dec. 29, 2019.
"Why Are People Working Longer? It's Not What You Think," by Kerry Hannon, MarketWatch, Sept. 18, 2020.
"5 Ways to Help Your Aging Workforce Embrace Digital Transformation," by Nick Candito, Entrepreneur, July 12, 2017.
"How to Combat age Discrimination," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Oct. 2, 2016.
"Are You Ready for Your Encore Career?" by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Feb. 25, 2018.
"The Impact of the Coronavirus Recession on Older Workers," by Congressman Don Beyer, Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, August 2020.
Entrepreneurship for Older Adults
"Seven Tips for Starting Your Own Business," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, July 14, 2019.
"At Last, a Co-Working Space for Midlife Entrepreneurs," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Jan. 5, 2020.
Financial Advice for Women
"What Women 50+ Want From Financial Advisers--Much More Than Men," by Kerry Hannon, Forbes, May 21, 2020.
"Why It's Hard for Women to Save for Retirement," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Dec. 7, 2019.
"Four Ways Women Can Get Smarter About Money," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Aug. 6, 2017.
"Facing the Financial Shocks of Widowhood," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, Nov. 12, 2018.
"Women Facing Financial Challenges for Retirement," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, March 3, 2019.
Long-Term Care/Caring for Aging Parents
"Love You, Dad. Alzheimer's Care and My Family's Story," by Kerry Hannon, Forbes, June 17, 2012.
"The 5 Money Lessons I Learned From My Father," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, June 16, 2013.
"Women and Long-Term Care Insurance," by Kerry Hannon, kerryhannon.com, March 4, 2014.
"Must-Know Statistics About Long-Term Care: 2019 Edition," by Christine Benz, morningstar.com, Nov. 25, 2019.
“4 Ways the Pandemic Is Affecting Long-Term Care," by Christine Benz, morningstar.com, Aug. 7, 2020.
"How Does a Pandemic Change Everything?" by Hannah Wolfson, HomeCare, Aug. 4, 2020.
"How Covid-19 Will Shape the Future of Senior Living. New Models of Care, More Aging in Place," by Reshma Kapadia, Barron's, May 29, 2020.
Christine Benz: Hi, and welcome to The Long View. I'm Christine Benz, director of personal finance for Morningstar.
Jeff Ptak: And I'm Jeff Ptak, global director of manager research for Morningstar Research Services.
Benz: Our guest on the podcast is author and retirement expert Kerry Hannon. Kerry has written 14 books thus far. Her latest is called Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working from Home. She is also a regular contributor to The New York Times, MarketWatch, Forbes, and is personal finance and entrepreneurship expert on the PBS website NextAvenue.org. Kerry's work focuses on career, financial, and life guidance for midlife workers. She has also written extensively about how women can take charge of their own financial planning. Kerry is a former National Press Foundation Fellow, a former Fellow of the Columbia Journalism School, and the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center's Age Boom Academy. She is also a former MetLife Foundation and New America Media Fellow on Aging. She received a bachelor's degree from Duke University.
Kerry, welcome to The Long View.
Kerry Hannon: Well, thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Benz: Your latest book is about working remotely, the benefits, and also how to make it work. The question is, were you already at work on the book before the pandemic shifted so many of us to working remotely?
Hannon: I absolutely was. I started working on this book a year ago. And I was right at the point of filing the manuscript as we leaned into the beginning of March. And the world changed on us. And I was able to get to my publisher, John Wiley & Sons and say, “Hey, hey, hey, let's dig back into this and give me a little bit more time to kind of bring this up to speed and look at the world that we're looking at today.” But, in fact, the whole idea of remote work was a global movement. That's why I was already writing this book. We were seeing this happening across the globe as more employers were kind of getting hip to this whole idea that, "Yeah, you know what, we can have remote workers, we can get more talent that way, and, you know, happier workers on many levels. And, yeah, we can trust our workers to perform from home or at a remote location." So, we were seeing this happening increasingly, and when everybody got the go-home orders, it really ratcheted up this whole idea of what is remote work and how do we make it work for us and for our employers.
Ptak: We're already starting to see some firms give their workers the flexibility to work from home even after the pandemic has lifted. Do you expect that the pandemic will bring about a permanent shift in the percentage of people working from home? Or do you think it's more likely that firms will switch to more of a hybrid approach with workers at home some of the time and in the office at other times?
Hannon: Yeah, that's a great question. And the fact is, your second comment there is what I see. It's going to be a hybrid. Not everyone and every job is suited to working remotely. So, employers, and we can discuss why it's really important for them in many ways to have people together in an office setting, but the genie is out of the bottle. I think we're going to see an increasing number of employers understanding the importance and the value of having remote workers--and particularly for older workers--and until we have a vaccine, until we have a real grip on this whole coronavirus, it is going to be a health issue for wanting to continue and needing to continue to work remotely.
Ptak: Your book discusses some of the benefits that come along with working-from-home arrangements. And so, maybe you can expand a little bit further and talk about what are some of the key reasons you think working from home can translate into quality-of-life improvements for workers who can do it.
Hannon: Yeah, I absolutely love this. Because I've been a remote worker for years now. So, I'm a big advocate. Here's the thing. It gives you this sense of autonomy. Having that flexibility in your work life can be a huge boost in terms of loving your job. I know, this sounds a little loosey-goosey. But I did a book before this called Love Your Job. And when I asked people what it was they loved about their job, they would say things like, "The people I work with," or "The mission of the company." But rarely, they said the job itself. But the third thing they always said was if they could have autonomy, so that they could make some choices about what hours they worked, and that sort of flexibility. So, I think that's a big piece of it.
The second part of it is this idea of cost savings. And yes, there are some additional costs that we incur when we're working from home--maybe a bump up in the electric bill, or some of those things, or maybe having to purchase some new equipment. But the point is, you don't often have the commute that you once had or eating meals out, these kinds of things that might go with working in an office. So, you see some of those savings. And I just find that the positive aspects of this can be tremendously rewarding for many workers. And I personally find that I work harder than I ever did when I became a remote worker, because I had that capability to work early, early in the morning without having to go trudging into my car and driving into the office.
Benz: Speaking of that, there have been some indications that some workers are in fact working a greater number of hours now that they're working remotely. So, is that a phenomenon? And I guess if workers are in this situation, how can they combat it to ensure that it really doesn't encroach on their personal lives?
Hannon: Oh, yeah, without question--you nailed it there. That's the thing, there is an issue and that would definitely be one of the drawbacks is that oh my gosh, when do you push back? There's this sort of fear of your manager, or your boss, or your teammates, thinking that you're slacking off in some way. And you really kind of go that extra mile to prove that you are on the job, and you're available, and you're working, and you're productive. And so, I find that, at least in the initial stages, and now that a lot of people have been working from home for several months now, they may be adjusting to this a bit. But there is this need to prove yourself. So, that issue of burnout is real. And so, I encourage people--that doesn't benefit anyone. You really have to learn to take the time to draw those boundaries. And it's your boundaries, not only with your working life, your manager and your boss and your coworkers, but also those boundaries with your personal life, especially right now, when you have other members of the family often working in a very close proximity to where you are. So, you need to draw those boundaries. These are my work hours. Set those hours and try to be firm with them. Give yourself that little introduction early in the morning to kind of rev up or what have you, but try to be very clear about the boundaries.
Secondly, you want to be disciplined. And this is something we all say, Oh, well, of course I am. But frankly, it's quite a skill to be able to focus when there are other distractions around you, especially at your home office. So, you need to really have that discipline in place. And the third piece of it is time management. I find that it's easy to let time slip away from you. So, there are all kinds of different ways we can do time management. I personally like to keep a written list of a to-do list of what I'm doing and what I need to do and I give myself breaks throughout the day. I'm going to take 15 minutes here or 20 minutes here. The piece that kind of gels it all together is when you take the time to build in a sense of self-care, a sense of OK, I am going to back away from the computer; I am going to go for a walk outside. If you have a dog, go walk your dog. That's what I like to do. But make those times that you can break away or even pick up a book and read something for real or have a phone conversation with somebody, something not on your computer. And remembering to eat. I know that sounds crazy. But if you're so absorbed in what you're doing, you don't have that coworker tap you on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, let's go grab lunch." So, try to make a point of building that into your schedule. These are the things I encourage workers to do because these can really zap you and sap your strength and your productivity. And all of these things come together, and it doesn't happen overnight. It takes a while to get in the rhythm. But you need to be very conscious of that.
Ptak: Maybe we can talk about one of the opportunity costs that it can be argued one incurs in working remotely, which is the loss of social interaction that comes along with working among colleagues. How would you suggest that remote workers try to incorporate more social interaction into their lives? And maybe as a part of that we can touch on the concept of innovation decay, which I think is a term that's been thrown around. I think Netflix's CEO Reed Hastings talked about some of the risks that he feels like his organization courts in having people work of necessity remotely, but the fact that they come together does court the risk of innovation suffering. So, maybe you could talk a little bit about that as well.
Hannon: That's important. A couple of areas to go down there. But one, initially, I'll say that the social interaction piece is really important to consider because not everyone is hard-wired to be a remote worker. A lot of people really thrive off that energy they get from their coworkers and having those impromptu conversations, even just conversations about your life outside of work, but building this sort of relationship with somebody. And you lose that, you lose that in a translation. And there are ways, yes, we've all gotten really accustomed to Zoom and all these different platforms that we can communicate on, and we do that with our work meetings. But try to find ways to schedule time to talk to somebody away from the work conversation. If you can talk to a colleague, maybe a one-on-one Zoom. But I often find a phone conversation might be just as easy--old-fashioned--but just as easy. Or if there's somebody in your area, and today, we're able to get out a little bit more obviously. So, if you can meet somebody in your community that might be a coworker, if you can get out and meet them for a walk or for a coffee or something, that you have some physical interaction--it's key.
Now, to your point, and once we start going back into the office, I do think it's--even prior to the work-from-home orders--it was something that remote workers really needed to put on their calendars to get into the office, because face time is so important in the work environment and it has so much to do with that relationship-building being considered for new projects, being considered for raises even. So, you miss out on some of those things when someone isn't eyeballing you and really watching your work. And there's this whole concept, and it's hard to measure it, but this feeling of trust--it all comes down to the employer and your manager really trusting you and you trusting them. And if you miss those physical eyeballing opportunities, it loses that tangibility of it. And so, anytime you can find a way to connect away from a work conversation or on a private one-on-one level, it's important.
But one thing you mentioned, Jeff, that I think is interesting is for employers, it's really tricky. Because you do want to get people back into the office environment as quickly as you can for a couple of reasons. Because it's this time--this is how you build loyalty for your company. This is how you build a sense of mission, a culture. This is where the culture comes from, is when people are working together and they're in a common area together. They're working together on teams. And this is hard to do remotely, especially if you're onboarding a new worker, to get them bought into this idea of team building without actually physically being together. And I think that's an issue that's going to come up down the road and there's going to be that need to bring people together for those kinds of opportunities. And for a worker, how do you know if you fit in culturally, if you're a good fit for the employer if you're not really around your coworkers that much or your boss--it's really difficult to get a beat on that. And for employers, that might mean a loss of loyalty and employers jump jobs more frequently, because they don't have that sense of responsibility. I'm not saying that's across the board, but it is certainly a danger.
Benz: Kerry, let's talk about some of the sort of secular changes that might go along with this transition to more people working remotely. We understand that you're not a demographer and an economist, but maybe you can talk about changes that you expect to see. It seems like off the cuff there might be reduced demand for office properties certainly. But any other things that you see happening?
Hannon: Right. Certainly, I do think there will be less demand for the big office spaces. I think there will be demand for office space, but it's going to be different. And you've probably been thinking about this as well and a lot of discussion about why do people need to gather in urban areas as much. I see people feeling more comfortable not having to commute into a city or pay high rents in a city to live there. If they can find a more affordable place to live and continue working for an employer that they currently have, then why not? There's a case to be made for that. So, we might see some shifts in that way in terms of what the cost of living in different parts of the country will be. And frankly, as things move forward, there's an opportunity to work in towns and cities that are far less expensive for a worker. But then you see some companies saying, “Well, yeah, if you're going to not work in Silicon Valley, then we're going to pay you less as well.” So, you might see a little bit of that happening, too. But there's going to be a shift in how the office space is configured certainly for the near future and what people are willing to do in terms of their own sense of self.
And it's younger workers as well. Jeff and Christine, this is what I saw happening last year before any of this happened, is younger workers coming into the workplace were demanding this as sort of a benefit from their employers: the ability to work remotely sometimes, maybe not every day of the week, but sometimes. So, it was something that employers had started looking at anyway, because younger workers grew up as digital natives. They know that they can work wherever their laptop goes. And, in essence, that's something that a quality of life--there's this sense of it seems kind of quaint to have to go into an office and work when you can achieve much more and be more productive elsewhere.
Ptak: Obviously, knowledge workers will be able to transition to working from home the most seamlessly, and they could benefit from improved work/life balance. But is there a risk that will heighten some of the inequities between knowledge workers and people who can't work at home, for instance, those in the manufacturing and service sectors? We've seen this in what looks like very stark terms during the pandemic with service and other workers literally having to put themselves in harm's way.
Hannon: Yeah, without question. This is really quite a huge question and a big chasm. So, when we're talking about in my book, Great Pajama Jobs, I'm clear--these are white-collar jobs. There is definitely a big gap between this kind of knowledge worker who has the ability to work in this fashion, to work remotely by using their computer and their digital skills. Whereas so many jobs in retail that are frontline customer service jobs that are, as you mentioned, working in plants and manufacturing plants, these are jobs that you cannot do from home. And, yes, I was interviewing somebody yesterday who runs some grocery stores in the Boston area. And they were kind of mission-driven frontline workers that they needed to keep these stores open. And he was able to give his workers a pay raise, but he said the fear that they have had of getting the coronavirus, of the safety of the workplace. And is a $2-an-hour raise worth it? It's something that these workers are out there, and they're risking their lives. But yet, what are their choices? I mean, this is their job, this is what they do. So, I find it really… It's something I don't have an answer to. I think that it's going to be a problem even moving forward in terms of loss of jobs and people being, frankly, unable to work if they're older workers or they have health issues that prevent them until we have a better beat on controlling the coronavirus.
Benz: You've written that the transition to remote work could in fact be beneficial for older workers, at least some of them. Can you talk about that? Why that would be?
Hannon: Yes. I honestly think it could be a real boon for an older worker, because here's the thing: Ageism is alive and well in the workplace. It's not going anywhere. It's been here––it's like the last ism that people don't like to talk about it that much. They say, "Oh, we don't have that in our company.” But yes, yes, yes, it's everywhere. And so, the point is, when you are an older--let's call them experienced--but if you're of a certain age, there's something to be said for not being front and center in a workplace, standing adjacent to somebody in their 20s or their 30s. I mean, it's subliminal in a way. But people, a hiring manager picks up your grey hairs, maybe you got some lines. When you're working remotely, there's not as much. Yeah, they can see you on the Zoom screen and you could have a nice filter, maybe that makes you look a little brighter and nicer. But you're not being judged like a book by its cover. You're not being judged by those things. You have a greater chance of being judged by your performance and by your productivity, and not the way you look. And this sounds like, "Oh, that wouldn't happen." But yes, in fact, it does. And so, I do believe that that can be a real stepping-up point for an older worker. If you have an opportunity to work remotely, you remove some of that ism.
Another piece of it is that, honestly, as you get older, sometimes those long commutes, commuting home from an office in the dark if you're driving, these are things that are just like annoying and troublesome. And if you can remove that stress from your life of having to have that sort of obstacle in front of you all the time, it just makes your work life a lot easier and a lot happier.
Ptak: Working remotely requires a certain amount of technological aptitude, however. How would you suggest that older workers keep their skills up to date?
Hannon: Yeah, you're so right. This can be an issue and it does not have to be. And I should add with the remote working, I think there's a lot of remote-working opportunities across so many different fields for these white-collar workers, primarily that we discussed. But the opportunities for an older worker, too. It just occurred to me this idea--that often when you're bridging or phasing into a retirement, you don't want a full-freight kind of opportunity, work opportunity. A contract position, a part-time job, a lot of these are available as a remote worker that you might not have had previously. And so, this opens up a whole channel of opportunity for older workers who are looking to find bridge jobs into retirement or to just kind of work backwards and have a little bit less hours-wise. Or if you've been laid off during the pandemic or taking an early retirement package, this is a great way that you can find part-time opportunities if you're going to transition to a new field to ramp up in a new arena in a more subtle fashion in a contract, an easier way for people to get the experience without having somebody hiring you full time.
The second piece that you mentioned about digital skills is it's imperative. So, that's often something somebody worries about an employer with an older worker. I think there are often misconceptions. But it's definitely one thing that people think about when they say a drawback for an older worker is, they're not up to speed with technology. And so, there's lots of opportunities now online. Most of the apps have tutorials, free tutorials right there. LinkedIn Learning is amazing, has all sorts of free learning opportunities; YouTube videos. You have to commit and make yourself step up and do it and practice it. And it's really not that hard. And given that we're this far into the pandemic, many of us have gotten very, very comfortable with technology in terms of Zoom meetings, Zoom interviews, working in different kinds of technology and text messaging, or Slack or whatever it might be.
So, it's really getting easier, because there's been no choice but to jump into the pool. But there's plenty of opportunities out there where you can step it up on your own, and really get that education and get comfortable with technology. And it's always changing. So, it's not that it's not one and done. But frankly, that's what it's all about. Working is constantly learning new things. And that's what we need to always be pushing our lifetime learning and lifelong learning. And technology is just part of our world and you can't ignore it.
Benz: A lot of your work over your career, Kerry, has been around how midlife and older workers can continue working, continue to have fulfilling careers. Let's talk about how older workers have done during this pandemic in terms of simply hanging on to their jobs. The early data would indicate that they have been kind of a hard-hit cohort through this period.
Hannon: Yeah, you're absolutely right. It has been a tough slog. And I don't have the most recent numbers in front of me. But even anecdotally, I have seen a lot of older workers accepting early retirement packages. They've been laid off. They've decided, "You know what, I don't want to go through this again." The slog of finding a job at this age over 50 even can be really difficult. We saw this in the Great Recession in a way. It really takes so much longer for someone who is in this age cohort to land a job again. It doesn't mean they can't. The jobs are there. But it does take longer. And as employers are really battening down the hatches and tightening things up and having to do lots of cost-cutting because of loss of business and especially small businesses certainly have had this issue.
So, I find it troubling because this is not a good thing at all. Because with longevity, the big focus that I've talked about for years is you've got to plan for working longer of anything, you need to stay on the job as long as you possibly can because we have no idea what the medical costs are going to be at end of life for us. And we do have these "bonus years" but this longevity that you're going to at 65--you can definitely do something for another 10 or 15 years. Our generation, and this is the boomer generation, is really no one's been here before, no one has seen this sort of down the road that Yeah, you don't just step out of the workplace. And work is not a four-letter word. Work is something that we need to embrace and plan for doing it in different variations. It may not be that primary linear career, but you need to continue working. So, yes, I am fearful because of the hit that older workers have taken in the pandemic, because often they were more expensive and easy to cut. So, I encourage people to not give up and to try to find ways to stay in the workplace. And hopefully, we'll turn this corner here and look for some of the bright lights and the opportunities that we are seeing from remote work.
Ptak: You've written extensively about how midlife and older workers can continue working and continue to enjoy their jobs. Before we get into your advice about how to do that, what are the benefits of continuing to work later in life? They're not just financial, right?
Hannon: Yeah, absolutely. There's so much more than the financial piece to working longer. But I can't ignore that because being able to continue in the workplace and earning even if it's just on a part-time level is a social benefit to you but it's also a financial safety net. Because you can delay tapping into some of those retirement accounts and you can let that continue to grow. As we see the market going lots of different directions these days it gives you the opportunity to not have to jump in too soon and to let some of that ride it out and continue to grow. You can keep adding to retirement accounts, hopefully, and you can push back on when you need to start tapping your Social Security benefit. And as we all know, if you can push it back to the age 70, great, great, great. That's a huge benefit for you.
But as you mentioned, we have these great financial motivators, but there's also the psychological boost of continuing to work. There's the use it or lose it idea. Because you often see people who step out of the workplace and they miss feeling, that feeling relevant, feeling needed, that social interaction. That is so much a big part of our social well-being in the world and how we identify ourselves. And it's a tricky space. But there have been studies that have even shown that the idea of continuing to work longer and using your brain can stave off things like Alzheimer's or dementia on some level. I mean, this is just some early studies on this, but it makes sense to me. And I honestly know that the social interaction is enormously beneficial to having a quality of life.
Benz: Do the data say anything about longevity and working longer? Is it just hopelessly tangled up where if you're healthier, you're more likely to work longer? What do the data suggest?
Hannon: Yeah, the truth is, when you talk to people, and many of the surveys, people say, "Oh, yeah, we get it, we get it, the longevity--we are going to keep working past our traditional retirement age." But often they don't. And they don't for a couple of reasons. One is, as you mentioned, it is a health issue. They have some sort of health issue that prevents them from continuing to work. And again, I will make a pitch for remote jobs here can help because if you have some kind of disability that makes it difficult to commute or go in and out of an office, this can actually be a great way that can be helpful if you have a health issue arise at this age, whether it's a mobility issue or what have you.
But secondly, they have the physical thing, but they also--and this happens a bit more for women than it does for men--but they step out of the workplace because they're caregiving, and they're caregiving for a spouse. And so, they've taken retirement because they have a full-time job caring for somebody in their home. And it could be an ageing parent, but frequently it is a spouse. And so, you find that they retire earlier than they did expect to and we're trying to find ways to work against that. Because truthfully, from a future financial-security position, the longer you can keep earning the better.
Ptak: So, while we're on that topic, as you mentioned, you've written about women who have stepped away from the workforce often to raise children but want to re-enter and find meaningful careers after that. What advice would you give to women in this position, who want to try to pick up their careers where they left off?
Hannon: Right. Don't try to replicate the job you had before you stepped off. The world has changed and hopefully, you've kept up on some level, whether you've been doing some consulting work or being able to be involved in a volunteer organization where you're using skills that you can say, "Hey, you know, I was fundraising or I was doing a variety of project management,"--things that you can reframe into business skills, into sales and marketing and so forth. So, you need to find ways that you can shift what you've been doing in your gap out of the workplace to redefine who you are coming in, but you're probably not going to replicate where you were. You're probably going to need to add some skills and there's so many great opportunities online now to ramp up your education and find out. So, you need to identify what it is you want to do. Really do that soul searching. Reach out to your network and find out who do you know that's working in jobs that you would like to do, working for companies who you'd like to work for. This is imperative because it's who you know that's going to help you get a job.
Employers hire the way they always have. They hire people they know or people they know know. You're rarely going to find a job off of a job board. You're going to find great ideas of who's hiring, you're going to find out what skills and qualifications are needed. But when you really want to get in for that interview, it's who you know. So, take that time to do that networking. And I'd like to say your networking is one letter away from not working. So, you have to get out and tell everybody you're ready to get back to work and find out who works where, what they're doing and get the creativity going in your own mind about what it is you might do and how you might shift and add new skills and be willing to start less than you're making previously if that needs to be. Look for internships. There's wonderful ways to try to get in the door through that kind of work. And again, remote working can help you here by launching into doing a contract position where you can start building to say, "Hey, yeah, I have done this project and this project." Yeah, it's not a full-time job. But you can show what you are doing today. That's what employers want to know is what are you doing right now.
Benz: So, how about for midlife and older workers who aren't having any trouble remaining employed, but they might be feeling a little burned out and perhaps just not enjoying their jobs as much as they once did? What would you advise that they do to make work more enjoyable and meaningful?
Hannon: Yeah, that is such a great question. Because there are always things we can do. And the number one thing you should do is to raise your hand and ask for new duties to see that there's something coming down the pipe that you'd really like to do and put your hand up and say you'd like to do it. They might not think--an employer or manager might not think that you want to stretch that you're wanting to take on some new responsibilities where you may have to learn some new skills, or what have you, to do it. And so, don't get comfortable where you are, say, “Hey, I'm paying attention, I really am interested in doing this.” Because it might not be personal, they may just simply think you wouldn't be interested. Or if your employer is offering some sort of workplace training, again, volunteer, ask if you can be considered for it. Say, "Hey, I'd really like to do this." Because again, they tend to focus these things on up-and-coming workers or newer, younger workers, and they just--your employer or your boss may not be thinking that you want to do this. But you need to be noisy and say, "Yes, I do." And if you might see an opportunity in another department that you want to do. So, be creative. Look around you. In your current work, you don't necessarily have to shift elsewhere, but see with your current employer that might get you jazzed up again. Because I'll tell you the one thing that can truly make you love what you're doing is to learn something new. And it's just, your whole brain changes. Everything about what you're doing gets exciting again, and you're kind of a newbie, and you're ramping up the adrenaline to learn something new. And it makes the work much more engaging for you. And it's something that you have to do yourself. No one's going to hand this to you. And so, you need to really dig down and say, "OK, yeah, I'm going to motivate myself to do this."
Now, the second piece of that is, hey, maybe you do want to transition to doing something different. And I write a lot and I speak a lot to people who are thinking of making a career transition and right now during the pandemic could be a perfect time to start ramping up some skills and exploring baby steps into what you might want to do in a career transition. And again, you're not reinventing yourself. Everyone uses that word. It drives me crazy. What you're doing is you're redeploying skills you already have in your wheelhouse, and you're shifting them into a new arena where it's exciting, it's new. You have new challenges. Yes, you're going to have to learn some new things, but it's not a total makeover.
So, again, think about your passions, things you may have always wanted to do when you were younger. Ask people and say, “What am I good at?” Often we forget what our true talents are, because we take them for granted. And so, do that little piece of exploration within yourself to say, "Maybe this is my time to try something completely different," and go out on an edge, on a limb and be creative to think about how my skills can apply to the workplace.
Ptak: You've also written about entrepreneurship for older adults. Among the older adults you've interviewed and included in your book on this topic, what were some of the commonalities of the successful ones?
Hannon: Oh, yeah. I have this whole mantra that I give people about Kerry's fitness program. And the number one thing that people do--all these entrepreneurs I've interviewed, they've all done very different things. But the number one thing is they've taken the time to get financially fit before they make this big leap. They've gotten lean and mean. They've taken the time to really do the budget, to find out where they can cut back, how they can downsize where they live, perhaps, do they have to pay down some credit card debts. This doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. But they start thinking about maybe they want to live in a city or a town where it's less expensive. Because when you are financially fit, it gives you the opportunities to start a business, to start something new. Because money--every entrepreneur I've talked to has said money is the biggest stumbling block. Debt is truly a dream killer. So, if you can get that under control first--that is the number one thing that every entrepreneur that I interviewed that's been successful, they have a really good sense of their financial underpinnings of what they're doing. And they realized that they may not even be able to pay themselves initially as they reinvest into their business and so forth. So, they've really prepared for that. That's important.
The other quick pieces are, I think you need to be physically fit. Because that's huge in fighting ageism, especially if you're an older entrepreneur. You're meeting with clients, you're hiring people, you need to have the stamina that comes from having that energy that you get from--I'm not talking bench pressing and running fast miles. This is, I walk my dog 20 minutes a day or what have you, a couple miles if you can. But go for it. Swim, whatever it is, eat with an eye on nutrition. When you are physically fit, you have this energy, people want to work with you, they want to be your customer. They don't know what it is about you, but it fights ages and it also gives you the energy to start something new.
And the third piece is spiritual fitness. It's really stressful to start a business. So, I encourage people to really look inside and find--I'm not talking about religion. This is more like mindful meditation or a Tai Chi, yoga. Again, I walk my dog. But something you want to do that finds your space where you can kind of step away from the stress of starting a business. And that's really important to build these three fitness pieces into your life as you embark on a new business.
The other things they told me is, sales experience is important. So, if you've never worked in sales ever in your life, go get a job doing something where you have to sell, because you're going to be selling yourself even if you hire people to do your marketing for you. It all comes down to doing that. You are your own best salesperson. So, they all wish they had more sales experience and all work to try to attain it before they launched. As well as, they did their research into their industry, they reached out to find out who they knew doing jobs in these fields. And they apprenticed if they could or they moonlit. They tried to do the job first to figure out whether it was as dreamy as it seemed it might be. They came to it. The really successful entrepreneurs also started their endeavors often in an industry they already knew, an industry that they had worked in. So, they had a good beat for what it takes to succeed and where the gaps were, where the opportunities were.
And they had capital. This is so important, because we talked about being financially fit. And when you start a business, when you're a little bit older, you often have that capital that can help you launch. And most businesses truly are self-funded. So, that's important. And in today's world, you don't need to have massive amounts of money because you don't need bricks and mortar often to start your business. You can start it with your computer in your home office. And an older entrepreneur, another thing that really has been helpful to them in their success is having a network. When you've worked for this long, you really do have people to reach out to who can be advisors, who can be sounding boards, who can help you get launched in an appropriate fashion. So, I think those are some of the keys. But really, no one made any rash moves. They took their time; they built their business plan and they made sure they were on solid financial footing before they launched. So, they often launched as side gigs while they were doing something else and gave it a chance to grow.
Benz: You wrote a book about financial matters geared toward newly single women, both widows as well as women who have recently divorced. Before we get into your advice for them, do you think that younger women are less likely to delegate financial decision-making to their partners than was the case even a couple of decades ago?
Hannon: I do think it's getting somewhat better. But I got to tell you, I'm still quite concerned about younger women. And it pains me to say this, but it's so embedded in our culture, that this idea of their financial futures, women are still… When I talk to men in their 20s, they often in their first jobs, they're much more cognizant of saving for retirement even at that age of having to set some money aside. Women tend to at this age, and this has been true for many decades, but they tend to spend money on things like makeup and going out, maybe not right today as much. But they spend money on marketing themselves, to look for a partner with the idea that they may step out of the workplace at some point to raise a family. And so, it really does concern me that the younger generation is not grasping it as deeply as they really should.
The other issue is, until the pandemic at any rate--and this is probably a good thing--younger women in their early working careers often spend more on their living situations that they're in cities, because they want to live in safer neighborhoods. And I think that makes sense. Or they would spend money on getting transportation home, taxis home instead of walking. Again, a safety issue, which is probably a good thing, but to be kept in mind. And the other thing that happens in today's world, 20-somethings are having a difficult time finding work as much as older workers are. And often they're finding contract jobs that don't have any benefits, that don't have retirement savings offered to them through their employer. So, it takes an extreme amount of discipline to automatically set up retirement savings accounts for yourself at that age, because you think, "Oh my gosh, I need all of this money to pay for my basic living expenses and my budget." So, if you don't have an employer plan to help you kind of jump-start that, it can be very hard for younger workers, and particularly, I think, for women.
Ptak: Women live longer than men, but data suggests that women sometimes invest more conservatively or don't invest at all. How would you suggest they get comfortable with taking an appropriate amount of risk in their portfolios?
Hannon: That's a really great question. But women, once they get started investing, actually are quite comfortable with taking some risk, but not the kind of wild roll-the-dice sort of risk. But women tend to be very conscientious about doing their homework. They don't make quick decisions about investments. They tend to do their homework. They tend to ask questions. And once they do invest, they stay the course more readily. They don't jump in and out of things. So, they tend to have a pretty good success rate because of their ability to do those things. But the thing that I think is quite helpful to women is, what I see holding them back is not that they… You see women say, when I speak to groups, "Well, you know, I'm just not good with math," or "It bores me," and none of those things are really true. It's simply that they're not comfortable with the language in a way. And we've been saying this for a long time, but it's still true.
So, I think it's important to encourage women to get together. And one thing I like to say is, women love to have book clubs, so why not read money books. Have some books about personal finance so you can sit around and you all talk about it, because it's having these conversations where we're quick to say, you know, where you found a quick bargain on something. But learning to get comfortable talking about investing and the different pieces of our financial lives that we've been taught is sort of this cultural taboo, that it's--somehow, it's not polite to talk about money in public, it's ridiculous. And this has to be pushed back on. But women tend to still feel that it's--they clam up and they don't want. So, if you can find ways to open up these gateways and safe places where women can talk about money and learn about it in this sort of real tangible way is super important. But I do find that there is this Scarlett O'Hara mindset about "I'll think about it tomorrow," which is really truly maddening. Because once women get into it, they really get it and they're very good investors.
Benz: Kerry, you wrote very poignantly about your dad's last years and your family's experience with his dementia. Sounds like it was a very long and really sad experience. Do you have any practical advice to share from that experience for listeners who might find themselves in a similar situation of trying to see to the needs of a parent who's rapidly declining?
Hannon: Oh, yeah, that's tough. It was a long road for our family with my father who had Alzheimer's. Right now, my mother who's 91, actually has dementia as well. And she's not, it's not Alzheimer's, it's different than dad's. But we sprang her from her assisted care place back in March because once it went into isolation, she would never have understood what was going on and she simply couldn't have survived that. So, my sister and I have been trading mom back and forth between us since then. And financially, there's a couple of things. If you end up taking on caregiving duties yourself and you're working as both my sister and I are, it's huge. And not only do you have the extra--often that extra financial burden of the cost of having someone in your home and living with you that not only additional food, or maybe you have different care needs for them, and you haven't built that into your budget, but also your own self-care kind of falls apart.
The other thing that happens, and this was more in the case with my father is that there are four kids in my family. And it became quite expensive as he had Alzheimer's for about 10 years. And it's a gradual process, and he was at home a good part of it. But the financial burden, the different pieces of it, like my younger brother and my older brother are in quite different financial situations. So, whereas my younger brother was able to give more physical care and being able to drive dad to appointments and be part of that, my older brother was able to do more financial help. So, it's a matter of trying to have these conversations with your siblings about what's fair, and who does what, and not have these resentments grow up. It's tricky territory. And it's compounded by the emotional piece of watching your parents, sort of, slide down this path where they are waving to you from a distance. But I found that financial piece, it creates these resentments that it's hard. And in fact, I even see some of it with my mom right now is, it's never fair, right? And so, we all have to kind of come to terms with what it is we can do to make their lives happy at this this chapter because it is truly heartbreaking, and it is genuinely expensive.
Benz: Well, Kerry, we have so appreciated talking to you today. We are grateful for your time and grateful for all of the great research that you've done over the years. Thanks for being here.
Hannon: Thank you so much. I really loved it.
Ptak: Thank you so much.
Benz: Thanks for joining us on The Long View. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe to and rate The Long View from Morningstar on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Ptak: And at @Syouth1, which is, S-Y-O-U-T-H and the number 1.
Benz: Finally, we'd love to get your feedback. If you have a comment or a guest idea, please email us at TheLongView@Morningstar.com. Until next time, thanks for joining us.
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