Developing a transition strategy

Jill Ruddock responds to our recent coverage of retirement.

Emma Young’s article on retirement (November) and associated research reminded me of a small study I conducted as part of my BSc, on the impact of retirement on a career woman’s sense of identity. Emma quotes a recent study by Jeremy Hamm and Jutta Heckhausen which found that continuing high levels of engagement in various activities tended to render the retirement experience generally positive. This very much resonates with both my own experience and the findings of my study.

I found that continuity between pre- and post-retirement helped reduce the negative impact of retirement, and that the identities created while working helped people situate themselves in their new world – able to use skills and the knowledge gained to develop a transition strategy. My study supported previous research which identified continuity as an important ingredient of a successful transition, but identified two further desirable elements, namely preparation and choice. One of my participants anticipated the event, had plans in place which would provide her post professional life with a sense of purpose and was therefore quickly able to embrace her new status. Another however did not because she was forced into it, and the unaccustomed loss of control over events resulted in a lengthy period of disorientation and disarray. I also found that a sense of being of value to the world was an important part of retirees’ search for meaning in retirement and that visibility is a key consideration and source of self-esteem.

In summary, the overarching message seems to be that if a potential retiree plans how to spend their time after retirement and is clear about how they will find meaning, this can be a powerful adjustment tool. My own experience corroborates this in that I actively planned my retirement and 12 years on I can say that my experience has been a positive one. Although I have had a few false starts and shifts in direction they have been formative rather than disorienting.

Finally, a point about retirement as a concept. Increases in life expectancy and earlier retirement have combined to extend the length of the retirement period, and the general health and prosperity of the retiring population has increased opportunities and expectations. However, as employment patterns become less linear and more diverse, and pension and employment law provisions push retirement to a later age, will the concept of retirement become anachronistic? Do people embarking on a career now expect to have 20 or 30 years of active leisure and how do they view that prospect? A longitudinal study of new entrants to the employment market which followed their progress through life and career, examining their views, perspectives and plans could help psychologists of future generations understand the impact of different life patterns on individuals’ sense of wellbeing.

Jill Ruddock
Tunbridge Wells

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