Re-think Ageing from the Old Economy Social Narrative.

For an inaugural year 2016, the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) at Ryerson University in Toronto looks to have set the stage well for its future vision. Closing with its November 24-25 conference – Re-think Ageing, the event hit the mark at a rapid pace, presenting a full range of elements in the current social narrative on ageing.





Over two days, constructed around the four pillars in the National Seniors Strategy for Canada, the conference managed to convey the breadth and diversity of this dialogue that affects the lives of not only seniors, but the lives of entire families. One of the goals the NIA set out to achieve was to “broaden the policy dialogue on key issues by purposefully including older adults in the conversation” – that is to say others who are not directly working in the field of ageing such as academics, service providers and product developers.

Among the sizeable audience, on the opening first day which I attended, the Planet Longevity group members with me included Sandra Downey, Mary Ellen Tomlinson and Suzanne Cook, who was one of the presenters in an Idea Bank break out session titled “Social Innovation, Productive Activity & Life-long Learning”. Suzanne presented alongside two other business friends of mine – Lisa Taylor of the Challenge Factory and Adele Robertson of V Generation.

In a very compressed amount of time, Lisa Taylor shared her model around working in later life with her Legacy Careers for those 50-75+. Adele presented her personal story, which led to her retake on volunteerism and as her web site says, how V Generation coaches people on how to “rewrite the after-work playbook” as a means of staying active and engaged. Suzanne introduced her new documentary film sponsored by CERIC Redirection: Movers, Shakers & Shifters.

Idea Banks for further re-think

Here is the question that set the tone for the group discussion that followed up on their triad presentation, which was really about how our frames of reference regarding retirement has changed the way people are approaching their later life journeys as opposed to the crisp end of work life as generally experienced by previous generations:

“How should Canadian employers, education, municipalities and social entrepreneurs evolve their thinking and options for older adults to increase their participation in the labour force, volunteerism or in lifelong learning via continuing education programs?”

There is a lot of meat on the bones of that question and the presenters conveyed a very consistent and complimentary theme that to their credit, managed to stimulate a buzz in the group conversations that followed, one that struck a chord with each person as they equally took it on a personal level. Unfortunately, the set-up of the room, the size of the audience, as well as the design structure and facilitation elements did not lend to the best output.

You might say that this session was a teaser – which could have rolled into a fuller well-facilitated 2-3 hour interactive dialogue, directly with the three presenters. So in that sense as the saying goes – Lisa, Adele and Suzanne left us wanting more! While this same comment could be made for the other Idea Bank presentations that day, the NIA should be congratulated for their ambitious effort to put a lot of effort into launching a national conversation to Re-think Ageing.

As a final thought for now, on the above meaty question posed for this specific session, I think that what we need to consider on a macro scale is that our fast moving, contemporary answer to “what is a labour force?” is fundamentally different to, and thus not so compatible to the old economy and social narrative.

Let me suggest that, in reference to Lisa’s reconstruction with Legacy Careers, Adele’s “after-work” re-write and Suzanne’s Redirection for later life work – it is becoming increasingly so that people are contributing to society and the economy in many different ways, which are not necessarily measurable by traditional labour market language. Furthermore from what I observe, even if they don’t yet have the impulse to re-think ageing, it’s not only the current generation of 50-plus citizens that are looking for a life re-direction of some form.


Mark Venning

Retirement Planning & Seasonal Financial Disorder

Here we are closing February in Canada, the end of “RRSP season”, in the crunch as if it was the only season to be retirement planning, almost suffering from seasonal financial disorder. We could call it the silly season: motivated sellers of RRSP-eligible investments pursue possible sales “prospects”, many of whom are as confused about what they are doing, as deer caught in headlights on a country road.

The theory of RRSPs is that they will help those working people with no workplace pension plans who are motivated to save for their retirement. These workers will put aside funds in a tax-advantaged plan from which they will access an income in retirement. There are a few problems with this theory. The first is that not everyone needs an RRSP – some people have other assets or plans, which they’ll use to fund their future retirement.

RRSP’s & the acronym alphabet of disorder

0202gail.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoThe second problem is that not everyone wants to put money into an RRSP if it means that their other living expenses are curtailed because they do not have the cash flow to make regular (or irregular) RRSP contributions at a particular point in time. A third difficulty is that for some people, especially on low-income, an RRSP makes no sense. They have no tax liability; they live a simple existence and do not expect to need more in the future. In other words, the minimum payouts from CPP and OAS, plus the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), will be sufficient in their retirement. However, they could augment their retirement income through the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) plan.

In what seems to be a new era for Nanny State programs, some governments, notably Ontario, feel that everyone must have a retirement savings plan. Despite the opinions of pension and economic experts – that government-mandated plans actually decrease individual saving for retirement and put a damper on small businesses, which would otherwise increase the number of employees – governments want to forge ahead with these feel-good policies.

For many Canadians, their best choice of financial acronyms may be the TFSA, which has the advantage of being a more flexible savings option. Financial security is the goal of good financial planning. The RRSP program may, or may not constitute good financial planning for some people. This brings us to the whole topic of financial literacy.

Advocating a financial literate consumer

The concept of financial literacy is that an individual consumer is able to rationally evaluate and make informed decisions about personal finances, including the purchase of financial products. Financially literate people can separate the sales “fluff” from hard facts. The key question is “Who benefits?” Is it the client or the advisor? Or is it a win-win?

The world of personal finance includes the sale (and the purchase by the consumer) of financial products, whether those products are mutual funds, savings vehicles, stocks or bonds, real estate or commodities, or various types of insurance. The risk to consumers at any age is that they can be sold inappropriate financial products – often at unreasonable cost.

As yet, a fiduciary standard has not been set for all Canadian personal financial planners, and this proposed consumer protection-oriented standard is being fought by the various industry groups concerned about a reduction in income for advisors and in the number of advisors. Financial services, such as financial products, should offer solutions to the needs of consumers.

Often, solutions offered by advisors are geared to how much money the advisor will make on any given transaction. The financial service companies, which develop financial products, devise marketing programs for these products or services. Sometimes, the advisors oversell particular products, to the detriment of the consumer.

Achieving a balance between making financial products or services available to the consumer and yet providing a fair return to advisors is still a problem in Canada. Other jurisdictions have eliminated commissions on financial products because of potential conflicts of interest between the advisor’s advice and the real needs of the consumer. It looks like such a standard is a long way off in this country, given that our closest neighbour, the U.S.A., is not contemplating such a policy change.

The old adage, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” (that is, the something is not true!), is a good motto for careful consumers.

Marie Howes, PRP

Redirection: New Later Life Career Research Project Launched!

Planet Longevity is pleased to share in our congratulations to one of our contributors on this thought leadership panel. Suzanne Cook has now launched a new research project funded by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC). Titled the Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development Project, this one-year project will, among other things, make recommendations to assist professionals who deliver career services to older adults in their later life career development.

Suzanne Cook is a social gerontologist and an adjunct professor at York University in the Department of Sociology and in the YU Centre for Aging Research and Education (YU-CARE). She has a shared interest in this subject area with many of us who have been working directly in the field of career development and seen first-hand, how this theme of later life careers has become more prominent over the last decade or so.

Career professionals work in different venues such as college, university and community based career centres, to private sector career & talent management firms and individual coaching practices with private clients. One struggle for professionals, who work with clients in their later life stages, is to find the right way to position relevant language around later life careers in a world where a term like “older workers” still tends to feed a stigma from an old narrative.

Attitudes to work, retirement, aging and longevity are not always consistent for everybody. Depending on how and where a career professional finds a client in their work-life journey, they have to take into account the client’s personal situation, their unique needs and desires and their current take on their potential. It may become a question of how creatively and progressively the professional helps them by moving away from outmoded frames of reference.

The margins have shifted in terms of how long and in what way people will choose to work in the future – and it is after all a personal decision. I support the view that there is no crisp end to work at any stage of later life, and this also depends, now and in the future, on how we choose to describe what work, a workplace and a workforce is. For many this time now is about paving the way for an extended lifetime beyond traditional expectations of a retirement.

“Redirection” is Suzanne’s operative word in her endeavour to help shift the mind-set of those in later life career, as well as those who are in a professional position to help them better articulate their options. There is both a creative and pragmatic side to career conversations, a push, pull and probe approach. One of the more pragmatic questions in this new frame of reference thus becomes “how are you going to finance your longevity?” Now there is a stretch of thinking.

As Suzanne Cook continues her work over the next year with CERIC, Planet Longevity will provide any timely project updates and at the same time help facilitate her in the dissemination of the project’s activities and findings.
Mark Venning

Empowered end of life care, to die with dignity.

One of the many opportunities of longevity is that we now have a more extended lifetime to make incremental life-stage decisions, including the choice to make our individual end of life plans. Despite this opportunity, most of us are reluctant to, or do not like to think about the eventuality of own death. If we do think about dying, we just cross our fingers and hope we will die asleep in own bed; or maybe somewhere else, comfortable, pain free, with dignity surrounded by loving family members.

Baby Boomers who have re-framed most cultural aspect of their lives from birth to retirement and everything in between are surprisingly slow to take the steps which would empower them to have more control of their preferred end of life care. Making personal care decisions and putting them in writing is a loving act of kindness to ourselves and for our appointed decision makers, but that planning takes time and thought.

At a very basic level of thoughtful concern – in Canada, a Power of Attorney for Property (both limited and general), Power of Attorney for Personal Care which are legal documents, and an Advance Directive (sometimes called a Living Will) which is a statement of preferred wishes, are tools to help people stay in control when they cannot speak for themselves. Each of the provinces and territories have their own style for these documents.

Advice from a lawyer and discussing decisions with your chosen executor make these directives more effective. The Ontario government has a booklet on-line A Guide to Advances Care Planning. Another source for information is Dying with Dignity, an organization founded in 1982. They offer an on line Advances Care Planning kit. Their web site has information on Canada’s right to die laws and information on assisted dying sometimes called End of Life Choices. This organization may not represent everyone’s idea of an end of life philosophy; but it does at least bring the term “dying with dignity” to public attention.
Take time to stay in charge, empowering end of life care and dying with dignity. Longevity is a gift – use it well.

Mary Ellen Tomlinson

Celebrating Maggie Kuhn

August 3rd was Maggie Kuhn’s birthday. This year we celebrate 109 years since her birth, and it is important to recognize this forward thinking American social activist for her work in the field of aging. Maggie is a champion of aging and the later years. In August 1970, she founded Gray Panthers.

“Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Her work is notable not only because she was ahead of her time. She also broke stereotypes and at age 65, she embarked on the most important work of her life. In fact, rather than accept her employer and society pushing her into a quiet retirement, she chose to take action and work for the rights of older people.

After being forced into retirement from the Presbyterian Church, Maggie, along with her friends in similar circumstances, organized and founded the group that became the Gray Panthers. The organization focused on the issues of older people including pensions and pension rights, health care and age discrimination. Gray Panthers also addressed the larger social issues of the time such as the Vietnam War.

By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Maggie was a charismatic and energetic leader. She advocated for older adults to have a voice and a position at the table for programs, practice and social policy and encouraged older adults to stay involved and take action on social issues. In doing so, she started a cultural revolution.

Maggie also believed in the power of intergenerational connection. One of her mantras was ‘Young and old together’. Under her guidance, Gray Panthers came to represent the possibility and power of later life. She herself demonstrated how older adults can be active in the world working for social issues that are important to them.

“There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!” ~Maggie Kuhn

Until death at age 89, Maggie continued her work as an activist and advocate. She redefined aging and she is a role model to us all – women and men, young and old alike.


Suzanne Cook

Why Pensions Divide Us, and Why That Must Change

When pension plans were devised (such as CPP in the 1960’s), the assumption was that people would contribute to the plans over their working lives and at retirement, they would have pensions (partly funded by investment growth) to replace part of their income. Yet no one back then could foresee that investment returns would stagnate, or that many people would retire early and with the end of mandatory retirement, pension plans would be under stress and retirees would live much longer than predicted.

Most Canadians hope that their pensions will pay for at least basic living expenses. But most people expect to pay for extras and want-to-haves as well. The problem is, not all pensions are created equal.

The pension plans for government employees are generally Defined Benefit plans, which guarantee a certain level of income based on such factors as years of service, income level achieved and so on. Private sector employees generally have Defined Contribution plans, or group RRSPs; where the benefits paid out depend upon the investment performance of the contributions made to the plan.  The Defined Benefit plans offered by governments are efficient because of their size and professional management — management which is usually less expensive than what private sponsors or individuals must pay. Between the DB and DC pension plans, there is no level playing field.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that to achieve a pension covering 70% of working income at retirement, public sector workers contribute about 7% of their salary. To achieve the same coverage, private sector workers would have to contribute up to 21% of their salary. In addition, public sector pension plans are routinely “topped up” by governments, with the funds coming from taxpayers. Often, companies cannot do such “top ups” except over a longer time frame.

Most government-employee plans are mandatory; often, private employer plan participation is optional. The result is that many non-government employees are leaving work with non-existent or inadequate pensions.

Fairness is an issue between public pension plans and private sector plans. Critics point out that “improved” pensions for private sector employees will have costs, which public pension-holders will not have to bear. A thorough revamping of rules for both public and private pensions is needed to close this great divide.

Marie Howes


Knowledge Transfer & Looming Retirements

What happens to knowledge and know-how when one of your employees retires?  How does knowledge loss affect your organization?

When one of your employees retires, it is expected that the successor will be up and running immediately. Often, the person steps into the new role with the organization’s assumption, ‘she’ll figure it out’. Yet, common wisdom says that it takes at least 6 months to settle into a new role. 

Estimates of successor failure within the first 18 months ranges from 40-50% at the executive level.  And the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least 3x salary. The impact of turnover on the leader, successor and organization ranges from lost productivity, missed deadlines, poor communication, unhappy customers, retention issues and higher turnover. With such huge, potential costs, it is in everyone’s best interest to help the successor settle in as quickly as possible.

What can you do to assist? Grab the knowledge before it walks out the door!

Rather than viewing retirees as ‘past their best before date’, or already in retirement mode, one obvious but underutilized option is to set up a process for the successor to tap into the rich knowledge base of the retiree.

Planning ahead and being intentional about creating opportunities for retirees to spend time with the successor enables the transfer of not only explicit knowledge and procedures but also tacit knowledge, the way we do things around here.

It is relatively easy and for the retiree to transfer explicit knowledge including how-to manuals, procedures and facts. It is far more complex and absolutely essential for them to describe and transfer tacit knowledge, the vast storehouse of wisdom inside her head, gathered through experiences, insight and intuition.  Tacit knowledge, the 2/3 of the knowledge iceberg underwater includes best practices, tribal knowledge and contextual information. 

Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact, regular interaction and trust. Each of your retirees has a depth of knowledge that will shorten the getting-to-know-the-job phase, help the successor get up to speed and become more productive and effective more quickly leading to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover.

Jill Jukes

The Third Rail: More Pension Dialogue

Examining our current construct around pensions is not unique to Canada. However recent federal and provincial conversations have heated up the debate about pension reform in this country and will likely become one of the top issues in elections upcoming in the next year or two.

In the Planet Longevity Blog Pension Tension (Feb.16),  Marie Howes offered her commentary and Book Review of The Third Rail by Jim Leech and Jacquie McNish (2013). How timely this is now we’re in the lead up to income tax season; and next to the Winter Olympics, everywhere we’ve turned in the last few weeks the advertising for financial planning products with the push for retirement savings contributions and debt management services has filled up media space.

The Third Rail is a must read for all Canadians. To stimulate your thinking on the subject of pensions and perhaps contribute to the dialogue read these links.

Mark Venning


Pension Tension

Commentary and Book Review of The Third Rail by Jim Leech and Jacquie McNish (2013).

Pension plans exist for three basic reasons.  Firstly, pensions ensure an on-going source of income  for people who no longer earn income from employment.  Secondly, pensions provide an income based on a person’s pre-retirement level of income. Thirdly, for those who have had very little income during their working lives, or who have been unable to work, pensions of various types sustain them for the rest of their lives. There is therefore an element of “fairness” in pensions.

Jim Leech, former CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and business journalist Jacquie McNish, have written “The Third Rail”, Confronting our Pension Failures.  It should be required reading for every Canadian (and Canadian politicians).  Given the pension disaster which looms for Canadians, younger citizens – the `spectator` generation in particular, should be reading this  book and becoming outraged activists.  If they don’t, they will be saddled with impossibly high taxes to sustain the unrealistic pension promises made to the huge Boomer Generation.  They will also see education and health services for their children undercut by Boomer demands.

The book examines three important case studies. The pension crises of New Brunswick, Rhode Island and The Netherlands, show why and how unsustainable pension plans MUST and CAN be re-worked. The achievable objective is to give pensioners reasonable financial security without bankrupting younger taxpayers.

Pensions are a battleground where private interests and the public interest intersect.

The private interest is essentially the business community which does not want to incur what it considers expensive, uncertain costs to doing business. Individual citizens may also object to giving a “free pass” to those who have saved nothing for their own retirement. 

The public interest is society’s desire to help by providing an underpinning of security for those who have worked all their lives. We also want to ensure that those less fortunate can age with dignity and a reasonable amount of disposable income to meet their expenses.

Next: Why pensions divide us…..and why that must change.

Marie Howes