COLOGNE - If he gets a call from the company that employs him, Klaus Beckert goes to work even if its one of his days off. When that happens, though, its usually to deal with clients, says the 73-year-old, a qualified toolmaker and machinist. Otherwise he sticks to his normal work week routine, which means going in from Tuesday to Thursday just three days.
Beckert, who lives in Cologne, isnt thinking of retiring. Its not about the money, he says. Its about having work that even after 40 years -- I enjoy. Beckert used to work full time for the company, a family-owned technology firm called Henkelhausen GmbH. Now he does part time work as a consultant.
Henkelhausen isnt the only company that doesnt want to miss out on the experience older workers bring to the job. According to a recent survey of family-owned companies and young entrepreneurs, nearly 40% of participating companies employ workers older than 40. Medium-sized companies lead the way in employing older folks.
Due to early retirement schemes, many big businesses no longer have any older workers at all. Overall, only every second large company in Germany has any employees over 50. However, the situation looks very different in family-owned businesses: two-thirds of the firms that participated in the survey said that workers aged between 55 and 65 make up over 5% of their entire work force.
For some 13% of those companies, in fact, workers in that age range make up 20% of the total work force. Because of demographic developments, people in Germany have to work longer, says Lutz Goebel, president of Familienunternehmer, an advocacy group for family-owned businesses. Moving retirement age to 67 is a step in the right direction, but its not enough, he says. According to Gobel, a flexible approach to retirement would work better than just having rigid cut-off rules.
A million Germans work mini-jobs
Most older workers today have mini-jobs. In Germany, more than 770,000 retirees over 65 earn a little money that way. Add to that some 530,000 mini-jobbers aged 60 to 65. The same doubtlessly applies to many early retirees, so that the total of working retirees is probably well over a million.
Some retirees are forced to work because their pensions are so low they need the extra income. For others, its quite simply the fun of work, and the nice feeling of not being sidelined after the age of 60 or 65. Social groups and left-leaning parties tend to subscribe to the first scenario, pointing out that many peoples pensions arent large enough to live on thus forcing them to supplement their income. But there are many indications pointing to the fun factor, and the need to feel involved.
Most people think the first two years of retirement are great, says Bremen-based Ursula Staudinger. But after that point many people realize that work can lend meaning to lives. Staudinger belongs to the Akademiengruppe Altern in Deutschland, a scientific research group focused on issues relating to the elderly. According to her research, 40% of early retirees would like to be working; a fifth of those in the 70 to 75 age group would still like to.
About half of Germans aged 60 to 80 say they are members of an association, or participate in civic activities such as neighborhood support groups. Researchers found that when asked about employment, most didnt want to go back to their old job or work full time. This could also explain the interest of older folks in Germanys new Bundesfreiwilligendienst, or Federal Volunteer Service, which gives people something meaningful and allows them to earn money while doing it. So far 300 retirees over 65 have signed up. There is no limit on how much they can earn, while those who have not yet reached official retirement age may earn no more than 400 euros a month or risk having their pension money drastically reduced. This too accounts for the boom in 400-euro-a-month jobs among early retirees.
Dennis Snower, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, is convinced that many retirees would love to work longer if doing so didnt mean losing part of their pension. But governments keep hanging on to the notion of a retirement age that essentially means that many people have to spend a fourth of their lives either not encouraged to work or working in a shadow economy. Snower refers to older folks as a valuable resource thats not being used.
Politicians, however, are starting to want to tap that resource. Germanys minister for social affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, has begun dialoguing with associations, unions and employers. One of the subjects under review is the rigid rule about extra income. The minister is proposing that early retirees from age 63 be able to draw on a salary no higher than their last gross salary along with their pension.
Read the original story in German
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