Career Change: Downshifting Your Career as a Retirement Strategy

by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

Shedding hours or responsibilities can help you move toward the career transition you want.

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

In these days of highly reduced retirement nest eggs, many people are trying to figure out what they are going to do about income and jobs. Some people out there who already gave up their careers are also looking at going back to work. This economic environment has left many trying to figure out what job or career to pursue. Trying to figure out what you want to do is hard no matter what your age. There is a group of people maneuvering toward what is called “downshifting.” It’s an interesting alternative and in some circles not really acknowledged openly.

Downshifting is basically when a person continues to work at the career he is or was in at the time he left the work force but in some type of reduced capacity. The reduced capacity ranges anywhere from a shorter work week to a reduction of responsibilities. With the reduction comes a reduction in wages that needs to be reviewed prior to taking this kind of step. Downshifting definitely has some strong advantages, but there are also a few disadvantages to understand. If you are in the position of weighing your options, downshifting may be the ideal transition job. Let’s look at the upside and the downside.

Advantage: Staying in the career you currently have means you don’t have to face a new learning curve. There is a certain comfort in knowing the terrain of both the kind of work and work environment. You can maintain your social network. Assuming you have a certain level of expertise you can maintain your status as a vital resource.

Disadvantage: Depending on your position you may not be able to maintain the same exact job. If you were a manager it may be impossible to keep you in that position with reduced hours and reduced responsibilities. For some people the ego impact of being “demoted” is too difficult to manage, especially if you stay at the same place of business. 

Advantage: For the person who really doesn’t have other non-work activities, downshifting can provide the time and space to develop other interests while still bringing in income. The absence of working can be more of a negative impact than many people realize especially if they are not absorbed in something else. The extra personal time will lend itself to exploration.

Disadvantage: When a person begins working less time and with fewer responsibilities he is suddenly thrown into a situation of “being out of the mainstream.” In other words, life goes on at work when you aren’t there. When you return you will notice that things have happened you will not know about. This could impact your work if you don’t figure out how to catch up. It could also really make you feel like you no longer belong.

Advantage: For some people, the pace created by downshifting can be very enjoyable. It can reduce stress and provide more time for everything both at work and in the personal life.

Disadvantage: Let’s face it. Some businesses don’t respect or reward people they perceive as not being totally engaged or committed to the work. You may be in a situation where downshifting is not permitted. You are either there totally or out the door. You may have to downshift by changing your place of business. Assuming you have been at your place of business for a few years you will know the cultural implications as well as the potential for downshifting. You may also be challenged to find another business that will maintain your career in a structure that will allow you to downshift. Also, you need to be careful not to disclose too many of your personal goals if you are doing a job search. Downshifting goals can come across as not wanting to work hard, not being committed or even not lasting long on the job. In this competitive environment you won’t want to create a reason to be rejected.

Downshifting can be an effective approach to use throughout the course of your career, depending to a great degree on other factors in your life. Children, dependent care, pre-retirement or retirement reversal are all real reasons to consider this as a possible strategy.

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a life and career coach with more than 24 years of experience working with men and women in transition. Find out more on Dorothy's profile in the What’s Next advisor directory.

by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran | Friday, October 30, 2009 | Career Change, Change Your Career

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