- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

CHICAGO | Less pay, fewer benefits, lower prestige — and greater job satisfaction.

Older workers and retirees moving into different lines of work can take heart from a new study that finds they are likely to enjoy their new jobs more than their old ones.

In an era when pink slips are increasing and some career paths may be cut short because of the economy, all too many job switches may be forced, rather than voluntary, for the foreseeable future.

Despite the shortcomings, there is new evidence that suggests career changes work out well for the overwhelming majority of older workers because of reduced stress and flexible work schedules.

AARP followed over-50 workers for more than a decade to study career changes and find out how they fared. In all, 91 percent of the study group said they enjoyed their new jobs, a significant bump up from a 79 percent thumbs-up for their old jobs.

“The study shows dramatically that workers are putting a premium on reduced stress as they downshift a bit,” said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute.

A report was released recently on the study, based on 1,705 workers nationwide who were surveyed over a 14-year period beginning in 1992. The study was conducted for the AARP Public Policy Institute by the Urban Institute of Washington.

“The current downturn presents a real bump in the road,” Ms. Reinhard said. “But for the future, the findings are a welcome signal that workers 50 and over can really enjoy themselves while remaining productive in a vibrant economy.”

Already common, career change among older workers is likely to grow even more as the baby-boomer generation nears traditional retirement age.

Murray Scureman, 70, of Potomac, didn’t wait for a recession to make the leap. He walked away from a lucrative job as a lobbyist for a computer manufacturer to pursue his passion: building.

Today, the one-time systems engineer, who is divorced, runs a successful home-renovation business and doesn’t look back, even though he makes roughly half his old corporate salary of about $200,000.

“It’s about ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’” he said.

Mr. Scureman knew it was time to act when he started to eat, sleep and think renovation at his old job — doodling in meetings while giving his own home a makeover in his free time. He finally left to start a business with a builder before ultimately striking out on his own with Denham Development Group.

The new job isn’t so new anymore — he made the leap in 1998 — but he loves it no less than he did a decade ago. While overseeing crews at a handful of project sites daily, he likes to work up a sweat of his own, unloading lumber trucks, carrying 2-by-4s and swinging a hammer.

“I think it’s what’s keeping me going,” said Mr. Scureman, who wasn’t a subject of the AARP study but changed careers with results similar to its findings. “When I was in corporate America, I would get sick up to three times a year, catching whatever went through the office. I haven’t been sick in 10 years.”

The study tracked full-time workers who were ages 51 to 55 in 1992 and stayed with them until 2006. Two-thirds of the workers who changed jobs during that time — and 27 percent of all the workers — switched occupations.

Their new careers, including part-time work, paid them significantly less per hour: a median hourly wage of $10.86 in 2007 dollars, down from $16.86 in the old job. Nearly a quarter of the career-changers lost health insurance benefits, and many gave up pensions. The jobs tended to have less social standing than the earlier work, with many former managers moving into sales.

But the findings pointed to two saving graces that offset all that and left job enjoyment higher overall:

• Only 36 percent of those surveyed reported stressful work conditions in the new job, a sharp drop from 65 percent in the old job.

• About 45 percent said they had a flexible work schedule in the new job, as opposed to 27 percent in the previous job.

• Mal Krinn made the switch when he had the chance to turn a hobby into a second profession.

Not many people would willingly leave the security of an established doctor’s practice for a job in a kitchen. Mr. Krinn did just that at age 62, going to work for his son Jonathan, a chef and restaurateur. Seven years later, he has no regrets about having given up doctor’s dough in order to create and knead bread dough at his son Jonathan’s chic restaurant Inox in the Tysons Corner area of Fairfax.

“One day, I was in the office, and the next day I was a full-time breadmaker,” he said.

Mr. Krinn had enjoyed cooking and baking bread for his family for decades. If his son hadn’t gone into business, he figures he’d still be doing just that, along with practicing ophthalmology.

But as with the study subjects, a chance for a new occupation presented itself, and he embraced it. Now his transition may serve to inspire other older workers who are looking for a new career experience with different challenges.

“If you pursue things that interest you when you’re younger, who knows where it can lead to?” he said. “You find out that you could actually go into what you got a kick out of all those years.”

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