x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Early-retiring Oman pensioners return to work for second careers

With the average age of retirement at 57, many men are starting second careers, if only to save their marriage.

MUSCAT // When Abdulrahim al Marjebi finally came to the end of his 33-year career in Oman's housing ministry his wife feared the worst. Working from 7.30am to 2.30pm five days a week as the assistant director of archives was not the toughest of jobs, but staying at home after retiring was daunting for the couple and the first six months proved difficult. "We were getting on each other's nerves when he was at home all day. A woman needs some space and she gets it when the husband is doing something," Mrs al Marjebi said.

Gently encouraged by his wife, the 61-year-old Mr al Marjebi did what many retired men in a Oman now appear to be doing: he started his own business. "Small real estate businesses have very little overheads but provide moderate income. Besides, it gives me the opportunity to do something and get out of the wife's way," Mr Marjebi said with a chuckle. "It is a great relief that he now has a real estate office to go to," Mrs Marjebi added.

A growing number of retired men are now looking for second careers to supplement their pensions, according to Mohammed al Rabeea, 48, a job consultant based in Muscat. Buying property and stocks are the favourite pursuits, and doctors say such activity appears to increase longevity. According to the civil service and manpower ministries, about 62 per cent of Omani men retire relatively early, at the average age of 57, three years lower than the compulsory age of 60.

"In comparison to other countries, 60 is really early to retire; that's why many men now seize the opportunity to keep working beyond the age of 70 to boost their retirement packages," Mr al Rabeea said. While before, most opted to stay at home and do nothing, in recent years some have found life has more to offer than staring at the four walls of their homes. Among the growing number of retired men to drag themselves out of the house is 57-year-old Fardan al Hamdani. It took him 18 months to work out that he was still too young to stay idle. After 35 years working in an oil installation in the desert of central Oman, he started Oman Homes in Muscat just more than a month ago.

"I sell homes and plots of land of every size. I Just earned my three per cent commission of 2,000 Omani rials (Dh19,000) with the sale of a villa. My first-ever transaction," Mr Hamdani said. Both Mr Marjebi and Mr Hamdani pay 250 rials rent per month for their separate offices and work alone to cut down expenses. But 59-year-old Zuhair al Lawati spends three hours a day at the trading room of the Muscat Securities Market, the Omani stock exchange, buying and selling shares.

With no overheads such as office rentals, Mr Lawati earns enough to supplement his retirement income and at the same get out of his wife's way for most of the morning. "When I retired a year ago, my wife asked me if I would spend all day sitting at home doing nothing. The answer is no and the stock exchange is my saviour and has turned out to be a good earner in the process," Mr al Lawati said. For his wife, Zuhair al Lawati, the trend of husbands embarking on a second career is a blessing.

"They want to come shopping and then look at the trolley and make funny noises. At home, they question the method of cleaning or cooking," she said. "They are a complete nuisance and drive a woman mad." Medical experts said the benefits of men keeping themselves busy after retirement go beyond smoothing out marital conflicts. "We find that men who have no activities after their retirement start to develop medical problems much earlier than those who continue working," said Dr Lata Prakash, the assistant head of curative services for the Badar al Sama hospital in Muscat.

Dr Praskash said due to physical and mental inactivity, medical problems ranging from diabetes, high blood pressure and depression are high among the complaints of retired men. It even leads to an early grave, according to the mortality census department of the ministry of national economy. A report for 2009 said that 66 per cent of retired men die within the first five years of leaving their jobs against 31 per cent of those who find careers or business pursuits after retirement.

But not everybody experiences the retirement blues. Shafik Hussain, 71, retired 11 years ago and has no interest in returning to work, instead choosing to travel. "My wife and I fly out once every three months for a two-week break somewhere. If we are in Oman, then we make a point to drive for a weekend to Dubai every week. It keeps the wife happy and me, healthy," Mr Hussain said. @Email:salshaibany@thenational.ae