Volunteering

Retirement doesn’t mean relaxation for Baby Boomers

Why the generation isn’t slowing down as it ages

Paul McGinn says Baby Boomers are getting busier as they get older.   Victoria Walton

For today’s workers, retirement often means being busier than ever.

“People that are in their early to mid-50s, they’re not slowing down, they’re getting busier,” said Paul McGinn, who teaches in the department of continuing education at Saint Mary’s University. “These people are sort of sandwiched, because of their age, because they’ve got kids in university, and they have older parents that they’re looking after.”

This raises questions about volunteering and who will help groups and committees now and in the years to come.

Nova Scotia is one of the oldest provinces in Canada, said McGinn, noting that almost 32 per cent of the population is over 55 and half of that is over 65. Compared to 50 years ago, seniors are healthier and living longer, so “it’s not the end-of-life years that are getting extended, it’s the productive part of life that’s getting extended.”

The generation of Baby Boomers is usually defined as those born after the Second World War and before the mid-1960s, so even the younger part of the generation is approaching 60.

Boomers are currently putting in more volunteer hours than any other group, although the largest group of volunteers are in the 15-25 age category, McGinn said.

He said when Baby Boomers do volunteer they want to see an impact and have a “meaningful volunteer” experience.

“They’re more inclined to sit on a board or chair a committee, because that’s what they know,” said McGinn, noting that especially people who worked in public service want to give back after they retire.

This can lead dedicated volunteers to overcommit, especially in rural communities.

“You go to a committee meeting, and you go to another one, and another one over the course of a week, it’s always the same people who volunteer, and they get burnt out,” McGinn said.

For other Baby Boomers, there may be challenges or situations that prevent them from volunteering. Overall, about 64 per cent of Boomers aren’t volunteering more because they don’t have time to give, according to 2012 numbers from Imagine Canada.

“A lot of organizations are looking for a year-long commitment,” McGinn said. “Maybe they don’t live here all year, maybe they’ve got health issues and they can’t commit.”

Stephanie Radcliffe is kitchen manager at Spencer House in Halifax, a community home for people over 50. She said they have about 15 volunteers, including students and retirees, working in the kitchen and at reception, and many of them also volunteer elsewhere.

Spencer House requires its volunteers to commit for a minimum period of six months, but Radcliffe said that hasn’t been a problem and most have been volunteering for several years.

Radcliffe suspects one reason seniors volunteer at Spencer House is to connect with their peers. “There’s nothing to do, they’re just trying to fill their day,” she said.

McGinn said organizations might get more volunteers of retirement age if they recognize what Baby Boomers want, such as flexibility in their schedules.

“Organizations need to take into account that people want to volunteer, but they want to volunteer on their terms,” he said. “They want to contribute, just give them a chance to.”