"I'll take early retirement when I'm 75."
Mr. and Mrs. Roduner's working lives are much too exciting to retire. When he reached retirement age, Professor Roduner took on a project in South Africa that may help to save our climate. Hanny Roduner wouldn't dream of giving up her life's work either.
Mr. Roduner, before you reached retirement age, you were a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Stuttgart. And you, Mrs. Roduner, worked in adult education for the canton of Zurich teaching handicrafts until you were 64. You're both turning 73 this year, yet you both continue to work. What's keeping you so busy?
Emil Roduner (E.R.): I spend six months a year in South Africa where I have a professorship for a research project. It deals with converting carbon dioxide into liquid, renewable fuels, such as for airplanes.
Sounds like you are working on a solution to one of our biggest global problems…
E.R.: As a matter of fact, the world's leading laboratories are working on ways to reduce carbon dioxide. There's a great deal of competition. And it goes without saying that developing a research project with such potential is amazing.
Mrs. Roduner, you aren't sitting idly by while your husband "saves the world." What has changed for you since retirement?
Hanny Roduner (H.R.): Just like my husband, I do what I do best, and what gives me the most joy. As a handicrafts instructor, I found my niche many years ago: I teach courses on making nativity figures. Because I was employed with the city of Zurich at the time of retirement, I was allowed to keep working for only six more months. Other municipalities allow people to remain in employment past the regular retirement age. This is the case in Volketswil and Grüningen, for instance, where I teach on a regular basis. My favorite is my vacation course in Sils Maria.
What's it like to start a new job on another continent at the age of 65?
E.R.: It has given me a new lease on life. The relocation, the change of scenery, new colleagues, and a new subject area provide inspiration and unleash a great deal of energy – all of this keeps you young.
It has given me a new lease on life.
When and how did you start to plan for your retirement and the years beyond?
E.R.: I always say that I can't retire because I've never worked a day in my life. All I've done is practice my hobby (laughs).
H.R.: We both knew long ago that we wouldn't put up our feet and just sit around when we turned 64 or 65. But we didn't really have any specific plans for the years beyond, even though we see it differently now. Careful planning is very important. In my case, my students just ignored my retirement date (laughs). My courses were still very popular. Many students have been building their nativity scenes with me for years now. I have created a large nativity scene myself that depicts the entire story of Christmas with more than a hundred figures.
E.R.: I didn't start to think about extending my research activities until I was 63. At the time, I'd been employed with the University of Stuttgart for 16 years and I knew the organization like the back of my hand. When I was 65, I could have extended my professorship three times for one year each, which would have been the easiest solution. After mulling it over for a while, however, I realized I could lose my motivation if I wasn't involved in long-term projects anymore and was already familiar with everything. That's why, when I turned 65, I retired in Stuttgart without having my next career step lined up.
I always say that I can't retire because I've never worked a day in my life. All I've done is practice my hobby.
So how did you get involved with the project in South Africa?
E. R.: During my last year in Stuttgart, a fellow researcher from South Africa came to visit me at the university. We had similar research interests, and he asked about the possibility of a student exchange program. Since I was about to retire, I said I'd be interested myself. Of course, he was initially surprised by this. But a few months later, I got an offer from Pretoria. I also received inquiries from the US, China, and India, but all of those were pretty vague.
Do you still work full time, or have you cut back your hours?
H.R.: I work less now than before, which is a good thing. Officially, I work 40%, and Emil works 50%. We have both found that when you have more time, you put more into it too. I prepare even more carefully for my courses than I did before.
E.R.: I don't miss having meetings, nor do I miss giving exams. My schedule used to be packed. I really wasn't creative until the semester ended and I didn't have all those obligations...when I could relax and daydream a bit. Now I can work like that every day.
What motivates you to keep working?
H.R.: The social aspect is very important, especially when you're older. I am still in the midst of everything when I teach. At Christmastime, I also display my nativity scenes in museums, shopping centers, or store windows. It means a lot to me that I can reach a lot of people this way every year and get them interested in my creative endeavors. I don't get paid for it, but I touch people's hearts.
E.R.: It's not work in the sense of labor. It's our life's purpose.
What is the financial effect of your continued employment?
H.R.: Thankfully, we aren't forced to keep working, because we were very careful with money our whole lives. And we were lucky. For instance, we bought our house for a low price and now it's a good investment. Because we were focused on paying it off, we now pay a lot less than we would for a rental apartment. Best of all, we can travel in good conscience, knowing that it won't mean we have to claim supplementary payments later on. Next to working, travel is our greatest passion. We went to Burma a few months ago. The country, the colors, and the people were simply unforgettable. We can't stop talking about it.
A recent study by Credit Suisse looked at retirement systems in an international context and indicated in a country comparison that working longer should be rewarded. Does the Swiss retirement system suit people like you?
E.R.: Of course, my pension comes from Germany, because as a professor I became a German civil servant for life. We are the winning generation in the Swiss pension system. The balance between income and expenditures is still there, but that's about to end. I recently read the proposals from some young center-right parties for a comprehensive reform of the pension system. I think they are brilliant. Their best idea, in my opinion, is to tie the retirement date to life expectancy. I also think it's very important that the pension fund deductions for older workers should not be higher than those for younger workers. This otherwise makes older people too unappealing for the job market.
However, higher pension fund contributions are probably not the only reason that companies hesitate to hire older people…
E. R.: People say that older workers aren't as flexible, they can't send us on business trips outside the country, we're slower, and we need more time to learn new things. By contrast, we do have experience. Certainly there's some truth to all of these statements. That's why it shouldn't be taboo to rethink salaries for older people. Why should it be written in stone that we can only have pay rises and never pay cuts?
It shouldn't be taboo to rethink salaries for older people. Why should it be written in stone that we can only have pay rises and never pay cuts?
Do you think that the older generation would agree?
E.R.: Yes, provided that older people are not expected to be as productive as younger people. It could be a win-win. A lot of people would like to keep working, but not from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They might be willing to work from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., three or four days a week. Older people generally have lower outgoings: They aren't taking care of kids anymore and ideally they don't have to put money aside for retirement, because they've done that already. Plus, people who keep working after retirement also get a pension in addition to their wages, so that's good for their budget too.
H.R.: We knew someone who did the bookkeeping for her family's company until she died. At the age of 95, she decided to reduce her working hours to 50% (laughs). Of course, the right time varies greatly from person to person and depends on a multitude of factors. But looking at the people I know, I see that the ones who still have jobs, whether paid or not, are doing better.
How long do you plan to keep working?
E.R.: I'll take early retirement when I'm 75 (grins). Seriously, though: I'll keep going as long as they'll have me and as long as I enjoy it. But even without paid employment, we aren't at risk of boredom. I still have stacks of books that I'd like to re-read. I would also like to keep doing smaller unpaid work. A couple of days ago, for instance, someone asked me if I could review job applications for a professorship in Pakistan.
H.R.: We are in good health, which is the main thing. We have three children and six grandchildren who are very important to us, even if we don't see them often. We are living a completely different retirement and grandparent lifestyle than our parents did. Our retirement is progressing in very small steps.