Chiovitti: Reimagining retirement will help all generations

A new view on retirement from OMERS' Chief Pension Officer

Chiovitti: Reimagining retirement will help all generations

A few months ago, I was at a social gathering when an acquaintance commented positively on my speaking engagements and social media posts. She then commented on how well she thought I looked and asked if I’ve had Botox done, as she was considering it herself. Now, I’m all about transparency and having open and honest conversations about getting older, but the fact that this was the question on her mind instead of the actual topic that I’ve been addressing (the importance of reframing retirement) speaks to the world that we live in today. We live in a youth-obsessed culture, where we are consumed with appearing youthful at all costs to fit in and demonstrate our value, even in the workplace. 

As a professional woman in my early 50s, I feel more confident and creative than ever before. I excel at my craft due to years of experience, success, and failures. I have gained the knowledge and the wisdom to lead and create exceptional value for the organization that I work for.  

Based on the traditional concept of retirement, I am about 15 years away from my “normal retirement age” and the ability to leave the workforce and begin receiving a pension for the rest of my life. As a result, I am at a pivotal point in my career where I care more about making an impact and feeling valued and respected than moving up the corporate ladder. In fact, one in five working adults is nearing the age of retirement, and if we are not careful, we will face a tsunami of great talent leaving the workforce, taking with them immense knowledge and skill.  

The world is greying, with more individuals across the world over the age of 60 than under five. By 2050, it is expected that 22 percent of the world will be over the age of 60. At the same time, we are living longer than ever before. The overall life expectancy of Canada’s population has increased from 70 years of age in 1960 to 83 years of age in 2024. By 2030, Canada will be considered a “super-aged” country, with about one in five people over 65 years old. 

Longevity is impacting all aspects of society, and I believe it is one of the most significant macro trends facing us today. However, instead of viewing this as a “looming crisis” the way some have written about it, I believe it can be a source of growth and opportunity if we take the necessary steps to prepare for a longer lifespan and reframe how we think about aging and retirement.  

Our current retirement model is built around a concept that was created in the 20th century that assumes a three-stage life – one where we will get educated, work, and then retire sometime in our 60s. This model is outdated and doesn’t take into consideration the additional years that we’ve gained. Evidence demonstrates that in order to live well into our older years, we require more access to financial resources, along with strong social connections and continued purpose and mental stimulation.  

The fact that we are living longer means that the traditional life course may no longer apply to everyone.  There are now new and diverse stages of life that do not follow a linear path. More people view retirement as a journey, rather than a destination. In fact, 54 percent of Canadian retirees and pre-retirees over the age of 45 see retirement today as a new chapter in life. This means that the pace of life can be shifted from a sprint to retirement to a marathon, where time is spent finding new ways to embrace longer, healthier lives and “retire” the idea of retirement. 

At the same time, up to 60 percent of Canadians don’t have access to an employer-sponsored pension plan, and many older adults cannot afford to retire. An Allianz Life survey indicates that in the United States, two out of three Americans say they fear running out of money more than they fear death. For some, the traditional concept of retirement is simply unattainable. 

An opportunity to reimagine retirement 

A traditional definition of retirement is the “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life” (Merriam-Webster). But for many, retirement no longer means completely withdrawing from work. Many are transitioning into flexible or part-time work, dedicating themselves to their community through volunteering or finding meaning and perhaps a small business opportunity in their hobbies. Work can offer many benefits including purpose, social connection, identity, structure, and additional income. 

Studies have shown that personal fulfilment and social connection are primary motivators for working in older adults, along with lifelong learning and participation in community organizations or other activities. Finding ways to include older adults and changing attitudes on aging overall and in the workforce can provide financial benefits, improve business performance, and strengthen economies. Older employees bring experience, knowledge, a vast network, and innovation.   

At the same time, we need to change the narrative that people working longer will take opportunities away from younger employees. This scarcity narrative is fictional, and by creating age-friendly jobs we will enable a win for employees and communities. Age-friendly jobs could encompass elements of mentorship and advisory roles, along with a move to more flexible schedules and autonomy that recognizes that many older workers may prioritize flexibility and phase in and out of retirement. Creating workplaces that allow all generations to thrive, feel included, and feel valued is key to a reimagined workplace and a reframed retirement. 

A World Economic Forum, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study found that investing in multigenerational workforces will raise GDP per capita by almost 19 percent in three decades. Key findings show that there are social and business benefits to a thriving workforce inclusive of employees from all life stages. 

Japan, with the oldest population in the world, demonstrates the potential for thinking differently. Japan has integrated practices that embrace its aging population, where one in four people is over age 65, which is predicted to increase to one in three in the next 15 years. An example is the Silver Jinzai Center (“Silver” for older people and “Jinzai” for human resources), which connects employers with people aged 60 and older for jobs ranging from carpentry to accounting. Many workers reported that their job helps them stay mentally and physically fit, in addition to providing income.  

Similarly, while higher education tends to be viewed as something reserved for young people, more seniors than ever are returning to school to continue their education for vocational upgrading or simple enjoyment. Universities around the world are encouraging this trend with curriculums specifically tailored to adults 50 years of age and older, and even providing financial assistance for older students. In 2020, 156,585 students who enrolled in postsecondary institutions in Canada were age 40 and over. 

I am truly blessed to work for an organization that nurtures employees and has inspiring role models across all generations. My hope is that we create a society where every person feels valued and included and does not feel the pressure to fit into a youth-obsessed culture. In the meantime, I will continue to have conversations about reframing retirement and providing a bright future for all. 

An OMERS perspective  

For more than 60 years, OMERS has been proud to provide secure lifetime defined benefit (DB) pensions to members who serve our communities across Ontario. We recognize our responsibility to raise awareness about the value of having a secure and stable income in retirement, both for our members and all Canadians.   

Celine Chiovitti is the chief pension officer at OMERS. She is responsible for leading a team of 400 employees in the delivery of exceptional services, innovative tools, and prudential pension administration for over 600,000 members. Under her leadership, the team is committed to delivering a world-class pension platform in a complex stakeholder environment with more than 1,000 employers and 30 unions and associations.