Are You Ready For Retirement?

It’s never too soon to prepare for a well-earned stage in one’s life.

Posted Feb 15, 2019

Retirement is a stage that transforms an individual’s life. Retirement can be viewed as a time when people cease employment and engage in activities other than a job or career related work.

What issues influence retirement? Some factors strongly motivate a person to retire before intended and thus appear as if the individual retired unwillingly from work. These may include

  • Poor physical or mental health of the worker or family members who need the worker’s help
  • An employer’s business is downsizing or closing
  • The financial costs to continue working exceed the financial gain
  • Pressure by employer (or self) to retire because of not keeping up with the work load or advancements related to the job

On the other hand, some people willingly choose to retire. Their decision may be based on

  • Having saved enough money and no longer being dependent on a paycheck
  • Believing that at a certain age, one is expected to retire and to start a new stage of life
  • Engaging in more social opportunities (e.g., spending time with family and friends, going to places that encourage social interactions)
  • Having the time to do things they couldn’t do when working

A recent Gallop poll found that the average age of retirement has increased over the years; i.e., from 58-years-old between 1991 and 2003, to 60-years-old between 2004 and 2010, to 61-years-old since 2011 (Newport, May 10, 2018). This increase in retirement age maybe influenced by people wanting to work (they enjoy their job or being employed) or by people having to work (they cannot afford to retire or their services are needed).

Common psychological factors influencing retirement decisions are stress and anxiety as well as feeling unappreciated or marginalized by superiors and/or co-workers. If these emotions are serious enough, there may be a significant shift in the worker’s attitude toward continuing to work. For example, “Is this the quality of life I am willing to continue to have?”

Regardless of whether an individual chooses freely to retire or is “forced out,” people can find retirement not to be what they expected. It is not uncommon that after the “honeymoon effect” of retirement (typically a few months post retirement), people may feel a loss or ambivalence about their status and even develop feelings of depression (Schultz & Wang, 2011). They may discover that

  • Retirement doesn’t resemble anything they thought it would
  • They feel unmoored and have no sense of purpose or identity (especially if their sense of self was based on their occupation)
  • They are bored and don’t know what to do with all the free time they have now and thus feel idle and useless
  • They have to adapt to new stressors in their daily life (e.g., more occasions for arguments with a family member, performing chores they did not do when they were employed, loss of daily contact with “work friends”)

For some, the abrupt change in the life they knew for years may now require a difficult adjustment. Consequently, they may decide to return to the work force. This is known as “bridge employment” (Beehr, 2014). Often, the person will look for a job that is similar to what he or she was doing before retirement. Doing so may result in less stress and more life satisfaction.

The path to retirement may be one where the worker slowly reduces her or his work schedule (semi-retirement), completely retires, or retires from one job and then goes to work in another setting. Choosing which path to take is influenced not only by financial and social factors, but personal ones as well, including psychological aspects that promote well-being. Bearing this in mind, what steps can an individual take to best prepare for and do during retirement?

  • Understand that retirement does not have to occur at a certain age or be based on an arbitrary set of circumstances. It is dynamic, and decision-making should be based on salient factors at the time.
  • Planning is an essential component of retirement.
    • One of the most important issues is to view retirement as a developmental process that should be considered and planned for as opposed to making a spontaneous decision to cease employment without having made any preparations
    • It is never too soon to plan financially for retirement. Besides the obvious benefits, financial planning also offers you more latitude in making a voluntary choice as to when you can retire
    • Planning for how you would like to spend your time during retirement and modifying this as the years go on and circumstances change. This helps you identify a set of growth and pleasurable activities (e.g., going back to school, spending more time on hobbies) so that retirement can be more satisfying and less anxiety arousing and boring
  • Consider the retirement preferences and needs of your spouse or significant other.  For example, if his or her health is an issue or if he or she is also working, how would your retirement affect both of you?
    • Consider other family members' needs if they are dependent on you or actively involved in your life, and what impact your retirement may have on them
  • Find sources where you can feed your “being” (e.g., spiritual, social, intellectual, creative, physical) so that you can view retirement as a form of sustenance
  • Understand that retirement from the work force is not retirement from having a purposeful life. You can devote time and effort to activities that promote a sense of usefulness, such as volunteer work. You can also perform activities that would have great meaning for your family, such as an oral history of yourself or other relatives 
  • Understand that retirement takes adjustment and it's beneficial effects are not always apparent immediately

We all may want a full and meaningful life. For many people, their work contributes a large amount to that goal. However, if one must retire, these goals can still be achieved in other forms. Retirement can be a time when unknown experiences and possibilities emerge that can further enhance our lives. Let us look with optimism toward our many stages of life and reap the most we can from each of them.

References

Beehr, T. A. (2014). To retire or not to retire: That is not the question. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, 1093–1108. DOI: 10.1002/job.1965

Newport, F. (May 10, 2018). Snapshot: Average American predicts retirement age of 66. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/234302/snapshot-americans-project-average-retirement-age.aspx

Shultz, K. S., & Wang, M. (2011). Psychological perspectives on the changing nature of retirement. American Psychologist, 66, 170–179. DOI: 10.1037/a0022411

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