Keep working, stay happy

Gloria Dunn-Violin


Baby boomers can’t wait to retire. They can’t wait to leave their jobs and their workplaces. Some are raring to be done with their years of toil, commutes, and 24/7s. Then, why are these boomers still working?

Two main reasons. One, of course, is to keep income flowing into their bank accounts. With today’s concern about outliving one’s savings, this is understandable. Even a part-time gig brings home some bacon vs. no work at all.

I would argue, though, that the greater reason is because work provides purpose, which is fundamental to our souls. Meaningful work stimulates an inner core that seeks fulfillment. Without it, many people are lost mentally and emotionally.

The Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study found that 89 percent of retirees who returned to work listed “to keep active” as one of their top reasons, followed by “had the free time,” “to maintain social contacts” and “desired the additional income.” These are all important. However, the No. 1 answer was “to do something meaningful while fulfilling my inner purpose.”

Ninety-eight percent of us have a deep-seated need to experience work as meaningful, reports the Gallup Organization. In addition, Dr. Teresa Amabile from Harvard, and her team of researchers, established that when we view work as meaningful, feelings of joy and excitement fill us.

Herein lies the answer to one major human resource issue that concerns most employers. Employee engagement! This desired state occurs when people work with purpose, because they exude enthusiasm, energy, and passion. They are involved, committed, and focused. Simply put, when employees win — their organizations win!

Working with a sense of meaning and purpose affords more than a connection to high ideals. A purpose-driven culture produces concrete outcomes, including higher profitability, more loyalty, and according to Gallup polls, as much as 30 percent less turnover.

Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work are more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations. But, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is only 13 percent. And, according to a 2013 Gallup report, only 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work.

In their book The Why of Work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich explain that people who understand how their jobs fit into an organizational purpose are happier, more engaged, and more creative. People work harder, use their initiative, and make sensible decisions about their work. In turn, the company can operate more efficiently. Everyone, from the CEO to customers, feels the positive effects.

Today, about half of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) 20,000 employees are over 50. Older workers range from bench scientists doing biomedical lab work to administrative professionals in human resources—to doctors and nurses in the NIH hospital.

The average age of an NIH employee is 48. Herbert Tabor is nearly twice that. Last year, the distinguished 95-year-old biomedical researcher was honored for 70 years of service. By comparison, 83-year-old Thomas Waldmann, world-renowned in the field of immunology, is a relative newcomer, arriving at the NIH during the Eisenhower administration. His discoveries led to clinical trials and treatments for various diseases.

“It’s like dominoes,” Waldmann was quoted as saying. “You never finish. You always want to see projects to the end. When you see a patient who’s alive who might not have been without some of your drug therapy, it’s a thrill.”

He has no plans to retire. This is a great example of purposeful living!

Does your organization engage their employees? Are you adding value for your workforce by giving them purposeful work? If you are concerned about competing for business in the 21st century, the time to start is now.