9 Lives for Women Blog

Moms: “Look Before You Leap” Out of the Workforce | April 4th, 2013

When mothers tell me they’re thinking about a workforce hiatus, my message is always “Look Before You Leap”. Some women leave well prepared–in a position of strength–after considering this important work and life option from many different angles, planning ahead for an engaged life at home and figuring out how to stay current in advance of an eventual return. Others focus only on the emotions they currently feel, and spend no time thinking about what a hiatus really means for day-to-day life and long-term financial and professional security.

Ultimately, the decision to leave the workforce is a very personal one, but I urge women to face some facts about how their departure could bring both positive and negative results. Too often women feel a false sense of security about the comfortable life that a spouse’s income can afford today–without thinking about the dual income that may be very necessary tomorrow.

Recently I partnered with the highly acclaimed job search resource Ivy Exec to produce a webinar, Look Before You Leap, and help women think through many conflicting issues as they have one foot on the off ramp. Take a look at some sobering facts that I highlight in this webinar:

  • Recommended savings to maintain your current lifestyle throughout retirement: 20x final household income at point of retirement
  • 75% of soon-to-be retirees have less than $30,000 in retirement accounts
  • Almost half of middle class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement
  • Eldercare costs of skyrocketed for you and relatives who may need your help: $21 an hour for home health aides, $3,550 per month for assisted living community, at least $222 a day for nursing home care
  • 93% of women want to return to work; only 74% succeed
  • Women who stay out of workforce three or more years lose 37% of earning power.

During the webinar I asked attendees two basic questions:

  1. WHY DO YOU WORK? Intellectual fulfillment and money were the top reasons (29% each), followed by sense of self, career aspirations and capitalizing on education (at 14% each).
  2. EHY ARE YOU CONSIDERING A HIATUS FROM WORK? The top reason was to reduce stress (60%). Other reasons were to spend more time with children and “because I dislike working” (both at 20%).

For more than a decade I have been asking women the same questions, and getting pretty much the same answers. This is a good exercise, because as you think about a workforce hiatus, you need to consider how you will replace you workforce motivators. Will you just stop earning money entirely, or find ways to do some freelance work? How will you find intellectual stimulation that is as sustained as work? Local college courses, meaty volunteer work, a book you’ve always wanted to write?

The other issue is that leaving work to reduce stress is a slippery slope. Talk to any mother of children at any age and ask her if her life is filled with stress. The daily management of a household, tending to family needs, overseeing homework, driving for carpools and errands and much more extends far into the night. My mother, who reentered the workforce in her 40s, used to say that it was much easier to go to work than stay at home. Stress is something that has to be managed in or out of the workforce.

In the webinar I say that you will leave the workforce in a position of strength if you’re leaving on your own volition (not pressure from others), you’re truly unhappy with your job or career and you need to regroup, you will not jeopardize current or future financial security, you’ve made a professional case for flexibility in your current job to no avail, you’ve exhausted flexible work options at other companies, entrepreneurial ventures are not for you, and you have a solid stay at home plan for intellectual stimulation, self-fulfillment and life partner equality. If some of these things aren’t buttoned up, you may still have a lot of thinking and planning to do to ensure that both you and your family are happy and fulfilled.  —KAS

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Photo credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net/Ambro

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