‘Retirement planning needs to be introduced much earlier’

A retirement transition coach is calling on employers to do more to prepare people for retirement at an earlier age to make the transition easier.

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Employers need to think more deeply about how they can help employees bridge the period between career and retirement and prepare them for what they might want to do in retirement at an earlier age, according to a coach who specialises in retirement transition.

Tessa Dodwell of Proficio Coaching and Consulting says many employers who do retirement planning sessions tend to do them in the last few months before retirement. Based on her master’s research on retirement transition, she thinks this is of little use to retirees as they often don’t know what they need at that point. Before they retire, for instance, they are often focused on finances rather than the bigger issue of how they are going to use their time. That kind of identity issue only hits when they have left employment. Tessa says her research with people who have retired shows it takes around a year for people who strongly identified with their job to be comfortable with their post-retirement identity.

The role of coaching

She is interested in how coaching can minimise that disruption, although she is clear that there is no one size fits all approach and thinks more research is needed. Some employers speak about reducing hours leading up to retirement, for instance, but she cites one example of a lawyer who reduced his hours in his last year, but felt angry and bitter because he was not valued in the same way and did not have the same role in decision-making.

Different approaches might work for different people. Research suggests those employees who have a strong collective identity – a strong sense of being part of a team – can find the transition harder, for instance, and may benefit from being part of post-retirement alumni networks. Evidence suggests men may find retirement more difficult as women may have faced career disruption and identity issues earlier in their working lives when they had children.

Core values

For Tessa, the important thing is to help employees coming up to retirement understand what their core values and passions are.  “I find it quite unsettling that people see retirement as a time to rediscover themselves, that many have gone through their whole working lives without having done any self awareness exercises to understand what their core values and passions are,” she says. She believes they should do such exercises much earlier on in their working lives. She thinks any time after 40 is a sensible point as people are more likely to have come through the early stages of family life and be receptive to thinking more long term.

Tessa says employers are very receptive to helping employees bridge the gap between work and retirement, but don’t often know what to do. They focus on pre-retirement issues such as sorting out finances. “The focus is on health and wealth, but that is just skimming the surface,” she says. “Unless you talk to people post-retirement you do not realise that it is the deeper, more psychological impact, the questions about identity, that are more profound and can potentially be very difficult to face,” she says.

She adds that general ageist attitudes also need to be tackled, many of which are unconscious. She would like to see employers changing the language and the way they behave towards those coming up to retirement in order to change the way people look at it. She says, for example, that people can be put off going to pre-retirement sessions because they associate them with negative attitudes to ageing and end of life.

“I am really keen to investigate how we can get people to start talking about retirement as another life chapter and about how they want to spend their time after retirement at an earlier stage,” says Tessa. “There is a lot of evidence that planning helps to reduce stress. We tend to plan our careers up to 60 or so and not plan beyond that. People tend to give themselves three months off when they retire and then start thinking about it and at that point they realise they should have done it earlier.”



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