Still working? Some interesting studies about work & retirement

 Many of us baby boomers are at the age when we’re contemplating (or hungering for) retirement. In fact, 10,000 of us are turning 66 every day—the full retirement age for Social Security if you were born between 1943 and 1954.

For those of us who must still suit up and show up, however, here are a few studies about work and retirement you might find interesting. Let me know what you think:

A 3-day workweek is best for people over 40

A study analyzed the work habits and brain test results of about 7,500 men and women 40 and older in Australia (participants were asked to read words aloud, recite lists of numbers backwards, and match letters and numbers under time pressure).

Results showed that those who worked about 25 hours a week achieved the best scores, suggesting a part-time job keeps the brain stimulated, while working too many hours can cause fatigue and stress, which can impair cognitive function (I certainly feel like a dullard at the end of a long week of medical writing). What’s more, even those who didn’t work at all scored better than folks who worked about 60 hours a week.

My takeaway? If you’re still working, downshift. And if you’re worried that your brain’s going to turn to mush in retirement? Forget about it.

Starting work before 10:00 a.m. is equivalent to torture

Scientists at Oxford University purport that having to go to work before 10:00 a.m. is a modern-day form of torture that’s harming our health. Evidently, before age 55, humans’ circadian rhythms are completely out of sync with traditional 9-to-5 work hours, posing a serious threat to workers’ performance, mood and mental health.

Students are affected, too. Notably, a school in Britain moved its start time from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. and students’ grades (and attendance) improved significantly. There’s a lesson there.

As we age, however, our circadian rhythms shift, and we begin naturally rising earlier (I’ve definitely become more of a morning person as I’ve gotten older)—just in time for retirement when we can sleep as late as we’d like. As we say here in Maine, ain’t that a pissah?

Science says 17 minutes is the ideal break time

Researchers have been saying it for years: Our brains simply weren’t built to focus for eight full hours a day. We now have proof that the secret to achieving the highest level of productivity during the workday—and maintaining it—is to take a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes you work.

At least that’s what a social networking company discovered when it used a time-tracking productivity app to see what habits set their most productive employees apart. Evidently, these breaks gave employees’ brains time to rejuvenate and gear up for the next round of work. The company also was surprised by what these most productive employees did during breaks—which was to step completely away from the computer. Instead, they’d take a walk, chat with coworkers about something unrelated to work, or read a book.

I have to admit I’m one of those folks who tend to work steadily until my brain is fried at the end of the day. I’m going to give this 17-minute, step-away-from-the-computer break approach a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Humor in the workplace has its benefits

If laughter is the best medicine, it stands to reason that it’s good to inject a little humor into the workplace. A recent Wall Street Journal article took a look at the latest research about workplace humor, and there were some interesting findings, including:

  • People tend to communicate better when they joke and laugh because it improves the way people interact with one another
  • A little sarcasm boosts creativity—apparently, sarcasm facilitates abstract thinking by making people leap from the literal meaning of sarcastic remarks to the intended meaning which, in turn, increases creativity
  • Humor makes our statements more memorable, but if you talk about a negative experience in a funny way, it might not be perceived as seriously as you wish (like putting a funny spin on a complaint to HR about your frustration with a coworker’s behavior might not get the response you seek)
  • Humor demonstrates confidence, researchers say, because telling jokes is risky and individuals who take that risk are perceived as being sure of themselves

As the article’s authors point out, however, humor at work needs to be used with great discretion. “For all the benefits joking can bring, it’s very easy to step over the line,” they write. “It takes only one inappropriate joke to get fired (although the joke that causes the termination will probably be memorable).” Ha, ha.

Then there’s retirement…

If you’re still working, are you counting the days until you can retire, or do you dread the thought of leaving the workplace? A new survey from Merrill Lynch entitled “Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List,” will likely provide affirmation if you’re in the former camp, and maybe ease your mind if you’re in the latter.

The survey found that the vast majority of retirees are happy to be free from the daily grind, the pressure of trying to balance family and work, alarm clocks, deadlines and never-ending emails. Nine out of ten say retirement gives them the freedom and flexibility to do whatever they want, and on their own terms. Ultimately, the study characterizes ages 61 to 75 as the retirement “freedom zone” when people enjoy the greatest balance of health, free time, fun and emotional well-being.

As I count down to 66 (two years to go), all I can say is, I wanna get me some of that. And it inspires this week’s Boomer Haiku:

Retirement is when
you have time to make a life
not just a living.

What say you? Does your work define you? Do you love what you do? Or are you ready to transition into retirement—and what are you planning for that phase of your life? If you’re already retired, any misgivings—or are you reveling in the “freedom zone?” Please share!

Roxanne Jones

About Roxanne Jones

By day, Roxanne Jones is an award-winning freelance copywriter specializing in health and medicine. She launched Boomer Haiku, a humorous blog about life as a baby boomer, in 2015, and a Boomer Haiku greeting card line in 2016 (available at 6 Maine stores; visit www.boomerhaiku.com/shop/ to learn more). Born and raised in Brunswick, she left Maine after high school (Class of 1971) and, after living in Massachusetts and California, came screaming back to her home state in 2006. She enjoys chardonnay, laughing at the foibles and frustrations of getting older, and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.