Careers Advice: Is working in retirement the right path for you?

Written by: Patrick Whitehead
Published on: 24 Jul 2017

Patrick Whitehead

After a lifetime spent working, many retired people soon find after just a few months that it is not quite what they expected, indeed they may not know what to do with themselves without a job. I personally find more than enough to do in retirement. I do the things I enjoy, and one of those things I continue to enjoy is working as a professional planner.

Work for me is a complementary activity to a fulfilling retirement, and continuing to work makes perfect sense. Like most people, I sometimes have a hankering for the finer things in life and a bit of regular work all goes towards making this possible. Those working post-retirement tend to cite financial issues as the primary reason they remain in the workforce, whilst perhaps a smaller group work simply because they want to.  For me, I lie somewhere in the middle.

All planners must be adept in evolving their thinking and working practices within a continually changing legal, policy and political landscape, whether you are in private practice, national or local government or academia (or all of these, as I have been). The benefit is that when you come to retirement, you are well-equipped for change and the choices shouldn’t phase you as an experienced, well weathered planner.  

So, what work will you do? You may wish to stay in familiar territory and continue with your current area of expertise. But it needn’t be more of the same. I have found planning to be an excellent career to mix with retirement, as the possibilities are so numerous and flexible. At 79 years of age I find myself branching into a new area of planning work, examining neighbourhood development plans.  

How much work will you do? As a planning inspector, I chose to make a stepped change. I was able to reduce my work commitment to around 60% of my time which was enough to enable me to do the most interesting, albeit challenging, casework in the form of local plan examinations. Since the beginning of this year, I now work as one of 18 employees for a small planning consultancy, committed to examining just one neighbourhood plan a month, typically over 6 or 7 working days.  

When will you work? You can’t enjoy your leisure time if you are constantly thinking about when you are going to do your work. Decide what suits you and absolutely stick to it. I know I am a night owl; I don’t even turn my mind to work until the evening when it’s quiet and calm, often working into the early hours. And, of course, this is not a problem when you no longer need to be in a car or on a train to work at 7am in the morning.

Who will you work for? Working as an employee means I do not have to worry about professional indemnity insurance and other associated legal and procedural requirements. Bear in mind that when you reach state pension age, you will no longer pay employees National Insurance contributions, so more of what you earn goes in your pocket. However, if you do fancy being your own boss it’s certainly not too late. Several of my retired ex planning Inspector colleagues have set up their own sole practices. The RTPI provides excellent guidance in its publication ‘Starting Your Own Private Practice’. But beware -  running your own business can become a job in itself as well as the need to do the professional planning work.

Finally, I am sure I need not tell you of the health benefits in working in retirement, keeping physically and mentally active as well as the social interaction. I have certainly benefited from all of these; I still enjoy travel, track days in my Lotus Evora and riding my Irish Sport Horse, Rosie, albeit my competitive jumping days are now over!

Patrick Whitehead has been a planner for over 60 years and is currently employed part time by consultancy Intelligent Plans and Examinations as a neighbourhood plan examiner and advisor.