10 February 2022





Topic by James

Essay by Lawrence


In the distant past people did not retire, they became elders or head of tribes or simply passed away. Today, it would be a tragedy if a person doesn’t reach the age of retirement. Before the late 19th century, people usually worked until they died. And work was mostly manual work for most people which took its toll on the body of a person.


In 1889 Germany was the first country to introduce the old-age social insurance programme. This was supposed to offer a financial cushion for those who could not work anymore after a lifetime of work. One of the ideas behind this was that if people did not have a regular income they would have to work till they died.


Justifiably, many headline problems about retirement involved the pensions of people. Those people who work for a low income have the most problems with pension paid to them. The modern pension system still does not seem to cover the needs of retired people today who worked in low wage sectors; very much similar to working people before the late 19th century. Therefore, the money side of retirement has not changed much, since a proportion of the population before 1889 many people had enough wealth as a consequence of the industrial revolution.


Today the matter of pension is complicated with the gig economy (not full time employment), punitive models for self employed people running SMEs, and the opportunity to travel and work within the EU. And yet the EU does not have a unified pension policy so that people have a central office to sort out their pension when they retire. How many EU citizens working in the UK will lose their pensions because of Brexit?


So what are the key philosophical issues with retirement?


The idea of work is a means to employ our energy to obtain resources for survival. Whilst we need to work (employ energy) our efforts should be sufficient to obtain the said resources, notwithstanding the pressures to survive are 24/7. The objective would, therefore, be to obtain enough resources to reduce the amount we need to work and to make our gains last as long as possible. But manual work has limited scope to meet these criteria. This is why tools are needed to make work more productive.


Hence, the first problem about retirement is finding an equitable balance between work and a low pension. While today many people are members of a decent pension scheme this is not a universal state of affairs. Unfortunately, this is the old problem of not having enough wealth to survive into old age without having to work. This issue of equitable wealth distribution in a society is still unsolved satisfactorily today as it must have at the time of Bismarck.


A second issue about retirement is the arbitrary nature of the retirement age. Many people enjoy their work and many do not retire, but very few people have this option. So what happens when we reach the age of retirement? For sure, some people will be tired, fed up and maybe even injured because of their work hence they cannot wait to retire.


But as people those who retire do not necessarily change in personality or in consciousness of themselves. If anything retirement may give someone a new lease of life, ambition and motivation to be more in control of what they do. Some might become unsocial because they feel void with no purpose in life. And this is a problem for some retirees: work gives us a purpose in life which some might be able to replace when they retire. Even more, retirement might give the strong message to those affected that they are not useful and valued by society anymore.


How useful retired people are to society, depends on the society they live in. But what we forget and nothing is said about it is that many retired people, especially women, give a lot of help to their family, from babysitting, cooking and giving moral support to their children. It goes without saying some children do not like their parents interfering with their young family. But what is important these people are providing a service that has a real monetary value, but we interpret this as a family member helping another family member. In reality the beneficiary of this family work is society and not the family.


Today, one gets the impression that many retired people are forgotten or excluded from society. Exclusion is of course a major factor in someone’s life and can lead to serious health consequences. In some cases this exclusion is recognized by giving someone an industry award for lifelong services: this is very common in the entertainment industry with actors and singers. How many awards are given to nurses, waiters or street cleaners fifteen years after they retire?


A third and final issue involving retirement is that of knowledge otherwise called experience. By definition people who retire take away with them a lifelong experience on how to perform their work and work relationships. This might not always be universal, some skills would be irrelevant with new technology, and others would be unwilling to develop new skills in their profession. But what is clear, is that this has been demonstrated many times: older workers who take up some after they retire have a better sense of work ethic and can better help train younger colleagues. And our sense of respect for older people ought to create a more harmonious environment at work.


Retirement also retires a huge amount of experience and knowledge that can be very useful to society. The negative side of retirement is that many companies do not like employing older people because they ask for more money and no doubt older people are more competent than some younger managers. There are many retired people who still share their skills for the benefit of society, for example grandparents looking after grand children, but wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a way to collect this information. Today, social media platforms go a long way to fulfil this knowledge base, but are they enough?


There are other cases when companies and businesses trash valuable knowledge from their company memory. A few years ago there was a trend called “knowledge based management” or “Knowledge management (KM)” whereby companies formally tried to collect knowledge and information into a centralised database where people could access this information to help them with their work. This was a sort of a know-how-to database that reflects the skills and experiences of the employees.


There was nothing new about this model since companies always had information and instruction on different databases. The difference with KM is that employees had to enter their own experiences, and knowledge about their work. At the time many people objected to this practice since they were afraid they might lose their job or replaced by junior people who had no experience but now have all the information they need. The issue for managers is how honest and how detailed people were when entering the data.


Once again we find an inequitable situation regarding people who work and company business models. Of course, some people do continue working and sharing their knowledge with society, but when compared at the general population level this is just a small selective example.


Retirement is also an opportunity to develop one’s self fulfilment as already mentioned. The opportunities to develop interests, return to university, meet new people, and enjoy the cultural wealth of the country or city are benefits retired people can enjoy without the duties of work. More importantly, today there are enough resources to plan for retirement and seamlessly move onto the next stage of life. But this requires a will power some people might not have after years of toiling against the system.


Best Lawrence




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