“I underestimated the importance of the social life at work, and I really missed all my colleagues.” Dr. Rob Britton worked for American Airlines for 22 years in a variety of positions all across the enterprise. He now consults and teaches as a guest lecturer at business school worldwide. He wrote the quote above in an article in the December 2015 issue of American Way magazine (the free magazine in the seat back pocket of an airplane).
The excellent, short article is called, “Life After Work,” and is based on Dr. Britton’s personal experience making the transition from full time work to retirement. The first half of the piece discusses the Beer and Peanuts concept of Purpose: having a way to structure your time and having something to get out of bed for. The second half begins with his advice to “understand in advance [of retirement] that relationships change in retirement, with partners and other family members; with friends; and with co-workers.”
The loss of casual interaction with colleagues and co-workers is one of the least-recognized changes that people experience when they stop going to work every day. Just think about someone who used to work with you but has retired or changed jobs. How often did you used to see them or speak to them? Once a day? Ten times a day? How often do you speak to them now? Now multiply that times all of your co-workers. There can be a serious drop off in social contact after retirement. For some people, this can be a real shock and a big downer. Here are three suggestions to deal with the loss of social contact in retirement:
Approach retirement on a glide path: instead of going cold-turkey, ease into retirement. Some people go from 55 hours of work each week to zero. Consider working 4 days per week for a year, then three days, then two. I know this would take some serious conversation with your boss or co-workers. Maybe you could shift into a position managing interns, or mentoring younger colleagues. Be aware that your income will most certainly change when your hours and commitment level changes, but this strategy can give you a taste of retirement.
Develop regularly scheduled activities with non-work friends. Find a breakfast group, a service club, a Bible study, toastmasters or sign up for classes at a community college. You could even go to the gym at the same time every day and begin to meet other people who go on that schedule. The key is to show up at the same place, same time regularly (just like work!). This provides the structure to allow for casual interactions that are critical to our emotional health – during working years and in retirement.
Don’t really retire. Sounds weird, I know. But what I mean is down shift to a much less stressful job. Instead of managing a manufacturing plant, work at a hardware store. Instead of running an HR department, pick up a few shifts at a fabric shop. Assemble furniture at a big box retailer. Take tickets at college sporting events. Something to have a regular opportunity to interact with people, have others depend on you, expect you to be there and care if you’re not.