Phases of Retirement

Retirement is a major transitional event.
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Retirement is a major transition event in any working person's life. Even though many individuals spend their working years dreaming of the carefree retirement lifestyle they want to enjoy, the actual process of retiring is often emotional and unexpectedly challenging. Dr. Robert C. Atchley of the American Institute of Financial Gerontology researched the psychological experience of retirement and identified 6 sequential phases a retiring individual might experience as he transitions out of the working world. You have to keep in mind that not all individuals experience all the phases. Nonetheless, awareness of these phases can help a retiree, as well as his friends and family, manage the transition effectively.


In the pre-retirement phase, a retiring individual begins to shift her perspective, focusing less on the requirements of her role in the workplace and more on her long-term retirement plan. Discussions with friends, family, and coworkers about "life after work" become more frequent, as the person begins to conceive of a life and lifestyle outside her usual work routine. For business owners, this is usually the phase they start to design and implement their succession plans. This first stage can begin up to 15 years before the actual retirement event.


The actual retirement is the second phase -- and can include a range of activity levels. During this time, some individuals experience an increase in their activity levels because they're engaging in myriad leisure activities or hobbies that they didn't have time to enjoy while they were working, such as traveling. A second type of individual might experience no change in activity; this person probably had a full schedule of activities outside his work -- and once retired, still enjoys those activities and easily finds new activities to stay as active as he was while working. A third type of individual might experience a marked decrease in activity after leaving his job, often because his working life was extremely hectic -- and he just wants to do very little for awhile. This can change with time. Regardless of their activity levels, most individuals experience a sense of contentment in phase two, which is sometimes called the "honeymoon" period.


For some individuals, phase two is followed by a sense of loss, uncertainty, and lack of purpose. It's easy to underestimate how much purpose and emotional stability a job can provide and, therefore, a retiree can feel blindsided by the hole in her routine and changes in her sense of self. Additionally, individuals who retire at 65 might still have decades of good health ahead of them. Without a clear sense of long-term purpose, the retiree can experience ennui, frustration, or a sense of meaninglessness in her life.


After the retirement and disenchantment phases, the retiree typically starts to experience phase four: reorientation. During this time, he begins to emotionally stabilize from both the highs and lows of the retirement experience and evaluate what is working and not working in his retirement lifestyle. It's not uncommon for people to start new hobbies, become more involved in the community, or add new activities to their routines during this phase.


During the routine phase, an individual becomes truly acclimated to her non-working lifestyle and identity. She knows how she wants to spend her time, and has put systems and resources in place accordingly. Ideally, all retirees should experience many years of this phase, as it is one marked by stability and contentment.

Termination of Retirement

The final phase marks the end of the retirement process. In this phase, an individual's identity and routine as a retiree become lesser priorities in his life. For some, the end of retirement might occur when they take on new roles in their lives, such as the role of a grandparent or role of a caregiver to a sick spouse. For others, retirement ends when they need to focus on their own health. Another way retirement can end is if the individual decides to rejoin the workforce in some capacity, either for financial or personal benefit.

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