(USA TODAY) When he could see age 60 approaching, Steve Davis began thinking about retirement. By that point in 2005, the corporate training manager at Michelin's North American headquarters in Greenville, S.C., had worked a collective 32 years. He'd heard the golden years were only really golden if you were healthy, and he figured he had until about age 70. He wanted to do the things he'd always dreamed.
After about a year, though, retirement no long seemed the best fit. Davis missed the community he'd had at work, and he began to think about quality retirement, which for him meant not just time but the funds to do the things he and wife Sandra wanted to do.
Turns out, Davis' old employer was missing him, too. In 2009, five years after he retired, Davis began a second career - at Michelin.
"When I left I remember thinking, you know, I'm not going to really miss the routine and the grind," Davis says. "I was burning out. But still, the passion was still there."
In the new economy of sometimes strained pensions and Social Security dissolution, retirement is coming to mean something new - not working as much. In the 21st century, the end of a career is increasingly cast in new light, one that often includes working part time.
Sixty percent of workers age 60 and older said they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company, according to a 2012 survey by CareerBuilder.com, an increase from 57 percent in 2011. And 48 percent of employers have plans to hire workers 50 and over this year.
"If you look at the demographic stats, look at how many of the baby boomers have just retired or are about to, it's a very significant portion of our workforce," says Rob Evans, recruiting manager at O'Neal engineering in Greenville. "So as employers it makes sense not to just have them disappear."
And on the employee side, it makes sense to keep working sometimes, too, says Brian Kaskie, associate director for public policy at the University of Iowa's Center on Aging. In some cases, people find it necessary to work to make ends meet, or just to live their retirement years in the fullest possible way.
And the "new old age" means people are active well beyond the typical retirement age of 65.
"Before, when we set the retirement age at 65, it was created with the notion that a lot of people were only projected to live to age 70," Kaskie says. "Now average life expectancy goes to 80, so we have all these people living much longer than their parents did."
Retirement doesn't mean what it used to.
At home on a recent Wednesday evening, Davis is doing one of his favorite things - cooking. The spritely 68-year-old moves from oven to counter to sink to stove, chopping, mixing and prepping the night's dinner of Italian-flavored haddock with roasted red potatoes and Parmesan asparagus. Slowing down has never really been a part of Davis' vocabulary. Sandra can attest to that.
"That's him," she says, chuckling. "He gets up in the morning, he's excited to go, he's excited to do what he's going to do. He's the same man at 2 in the morning."
Davis spent the first few months of retirement doing things he'd always thought of doing. He slept in, he focused on cooking, he volunteered with his church, and he took on home renovation projects.
So finding things to do was never the issue, but he also missed the social and technical aspects of work.
His last five years in Michelin's education and training division were tiring but highly rewarding. So when Michelin offered him a job with the company's Returning Retirees Program to help train some newer employees, he jumped at the opportunity.
By 2009, Davis was back at Michelin in a regular position as director of the Michelin Challenge Education program, which enlists company employees to work in local schools.
"They said who's gonna do it?" Davis recalls. "Is there anyone that can do it internally and tack it onto their job? Then they said, maybe a retiree would be interested."
Good for business
When Michelin moved its North American headquarters to Greenville in 1974, the company went on a hiring blitz. But over the years the combination of very low turnover and time has meant 40 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
In the early 2000s, planning began for the retirement wave. But it wasn't until 2010 that a formal program, now dubbed Returning Retirees, was established. Michelin North America also launched a website for retirees that year that provided a way to stay connected to the company and each other and a way to search available jobs.
"These are people who have expertise in their fields, who, in most cases haven't lost their desire to be productive," says Wayne Culbertson, executive vice president of personnel and chief human resources officer at Michelin. "They still share a desire to stay linked in."
Michelin is not alone in that thinking. Around 2005, O'Neal began a similar program. The Greenville-based engineering firm began planning for a shift in its workforce. Given the highly technical nature of the work, finding qualified staff can be an issue, Evans says.
"There are a lot of things that someone who has been in the business for years and years knows that you just can't get any other way than experience," he says. "So rather than us pushing people aside, our challenge is to bring in enough young people to learn from the more experienced people."
Retired ... sort of
After 36 years with O'Neal, Phil Levesque was practically one of the local engineering company's founding fathers. He knew the procedures inside and out and the details of a longtime client. But, at age 60, he decided it was time to move on.
He spent a year hunting and fishing and enjoying time with his five grandchildren. But then the economy took a turn.
In 2009, Levesque returned to O'Neal as a contractor. The decision was influenced in part by a desire to focus on the nitty gritty of problem-solving again, and in part by a desire to save more money.
He works on a project-by-project basis. When O'Neal needs someone with civil and structural knowledge, management experience or someone with a flexible schedule, they call him. So far, the system has worked well, with Levesque earning enough extra income to give him and wife Beverley a nice financial cushion, and also having time to do the things he enjoys.
With the extra income, Levesque is on track to pay off his mortgage this year.
"Without the return to work we could have managed," Levesque says. "But as for myself personally, I wanted to get my mortgage paid off at this age. I'm on track to do it this year."
Anne Marie Currier re-entered the workforce with finances in mind, too. The 73-year-old, who'd worked at Michelin for 23 years before leaving, was drawn back to work by what she says was part necessity and part "too much HGTV."
"I did all the work on my house," Currier says. "It was a good investment and my children will inherit it, but I thought, you know, I need to try to bring more money in."
Being fluent in French, Currier began working in the language lab at Michelin's Greenville headquarters and soon transitioned into a 32-hour-a-week schedule. She currently divides her time between the recruitment department and the pensions department.
Currier admits she did not expect to be working at 73, but for now, she also doesn't mind it. Most weeks, she is able to work out her schedule so she has Fridays off, and she is able to grow her savings, participating in the Michelin's 401(k) and pension plans.
"The job gives you a purpose. You keep learning new things, you're with people," Currier says. "No, I don't think 60 is the new 40, but I think we're using our abilities a lot longer in a very active and productive way."
Building a cushion
On a Monday morning, Davis is at work. He moves deftly through the halls at East North Street Academy, where he runs the Michelin Challenge Education program. His schedule means he walks these halls several times a week to meet with teachers, meet with the school's program coordinator and to coordinate with volunteers.
Davis was tasked with developing the outreach program almost from scratch when he returned to Michelin in 2009. At the time, he says, he wasn't sure how long his new tenure at Michelin would be. He thought maybe a year or less.
Four years later, Davis is still working. The time adds up to about 10 hours a week, meaning he has ample time for other pursuits. Since he is older than 65, he has Medicare but is eligible through Michelin to pay into a separate drug benefit program. As an employee, he is also eligible to go to the company's on-campus medical clinics.
The time spent working again has allowed him and Sandra to build a financial cushion. It's not that they would struggle if Steve retired fully, but this way they will truly get to live the retirement they want. Like renting a house at the beach for a week for their kids and grandkids.
"It's that extra money that we can do some things that we might have done, but it would have been a stretch," Sandra says. "We're not about going to Hawaii for two weeks or buying a Jaguar. We reinvest that money back in our family and making memories."
Davis nods as his wife of 30 years talks. The two share a smile. He won't work forever, he says.
"If they walked up to me tomorrow and said, 'Steve, we really appreciate this, but we don't need you anymore,'" Davis says. "It's like OK, thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the opportunity. I hope I made a difference."