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Tips on retirement

My neighbour was lamenting the fact that several of her friends were either rejecting the idea of retirement or pretending that it was not inevitable. She was recounting an incident in which her advice about joining a retirement association and about doing some research in that area as early as possible was snubbed by them.

At the time, her friends suggested that people at age 45 were too young to think about retirement. In retrospect, she now feels that at the time most of them were viewing the whole process with some form of trepidation.

What people do not realise is that retirement has a way of creeping up on individuals and hence they are often caught off guard and psychologically ill prepared for the process.

In addition, when most people consider retirement they think of their financial well being which is good, but they often do not consider the psychological adjustment that one has to make as well. As we all know, many people start to work when they are just out of school or college and at the time their main focus is about working, paying a mortgage, car loans or rent while raising a family.

During this period, retirement seems a long way off and generally people do not want to think of it, and/or they are secretly hoping that it never comes as it is viewed as a period of sadness. Therefore, no thought is given to the psychological adjustments one may have to make at retirement.

To compound the situation, people are living longer so it is a distinct possibility that we will be in a state of retirement for longer periods than our parents.

However, this does not have to be a period of unhappiness. There are many activities in which a retired person can become involved to combat the feelings of psychological dislocation and continue to live a productive life. The article this week is about the impact of personality on the behaviour of individuals towards retirement.

Firstly, let us examine the term retirement as proposed by Denton and Spencer (2009) in the following discussion. These researchers suggest that to alleviate the feelings of trepidation when we think of retirement we should instead view it as (a) a period of transition from types of salaried employment to other activities that could include volunteering (b) that occur at another stage in our life (c) to one that indicates that we are capable of activities outside of main stream employment (d) that contributes to the development of society as a whole.

If one examines these statements it would appear that the term retirement varies in its meaning according to who is making the definition. This has made the concept so divergent that it is difficult to arrive at one meaning which could incorporate the developing nature of the phenomenon. The most important thing to remember here is that retirement means different things to different people.

So you may be asking why this is so. Well as individuals, our jobs/professions underpin our sense of self worth as well as our familial situation, personality and upward mobility within the community. All of these are inextricably linked to the labour market in some way.

It is therefore understandable that when we retire, we may feel a sense of abandonment which could result in a stress-inducing transitional period. In fact, some believe that one should have accumulated significant pools of resources by this time in order to overcome this period. However, they do not consider the economic troughs and peaks that one encounters in their journey to this point (Fehr, 2012).

Nonetheless, one cannot argue against the theory that having access to monetary resources allows retirees to experience less stress. However, there are arguments that, the support of a caring family may enable an individual to overcome many emotional stressors during retirement (Fehr, 2012).

In addition, there are those who believe that this unhappiness could occur because many people experience or are afraid of the emotional distress linked to this period of social isolation. Added to that, the loss of independence and the view of persons in society that they are too old to participate in certain activities can be de-motivating in itself.

Notwithstanding, there are some suggestions that retirement does not have to be stressful at any point. This view was posited by researchers who were of the view that the temperament of the individual contributes to their attitude towards adjustments to retirement.

For instance, individuals with creative personalities may view retirement as a self-actualising experience which can be a period of complete fulfilment. These individuals often have wide interests which more often than not were developed because of high levels of self-efficacy. As a result, they demonstrate the confidence to succeed in any task that presents itself.

In contrast, those who view retirement as stressful seem to lack creativity, confidence and the ability to achieve goals. These are often people who like routine and certainty and who are less creative. Research has suggested that people with such personality traits often lack confidence and do not display a positive approach to job change. In most cases, these individuals view retirement with anxiety since they fear novelty.

Most importantly, they may have always demonstrated resistance to change in jobs and careers for some time. This could mean that individuals who have a “need for closure and a preference for firm answers” were less able to cope with retirement (Wille, De Fruyt and Feys, 2010, p 76).

In closing, it appears that one’s personality traits can impact on one’s attitude towards retirement even though they may be financially prepared. Therefore, it was suggested that organisations make some effort to manage employees’ transition to retirement by developing training programmes that encourage employees to embrace innovative roles.

This could result in creating an employee who has developed the attitude and the creative energy needed to cope with the changes of retirement, instead of going off to a life of social dislocation and loneliness: one major cause of senile dementia. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Psychology and Management Consultant

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