Men, much more so than women, are at risk of a post-retirement funk.
Posted January 14, 2011
I was having a conversation the other day with my physician. I was indicating how interesting, fulfilling, and stimulating I found my days in retirement. He indicated I could well be the exception, or at a minimum, not in the majority of men who find themselves entering retirement. In discussing this result, we concluded that unhappiness in men does not appear to be the result of a lack of money or poor health. A lack of sufficient funds to live the “good life,” can certainly contribute to unhappiness in retirement but there is more.
My doctor’s observation was that men often see retirement as an end goal, a point of time they have worked for and toward their entire lives. It represents a sort of “holy grail,” something to be attained, like a reward. Once there, whether attained at a specified time, for example at age 65, or thrust upon them through forced termination at an earlier unplanned stage, the result is the same—“Now what?” I have observed that even male doctors, attorneys and business owners who “retire” beyond age 70 bump up against that same question, “What now?”
Oftentimes the result of this “final” (perhaps not so final) career transition is the onset of depression, or at least a period of months of malaise. Suddenly the “penny drops” and faced with retirement he realizes that he is now beginning a new, dramatically different lifestyle than previously experienced. Thrust into being at home without the structure of going to a job, some men become depressed or irritable and often lose their temper easily. It may take months or sometimes longer to rid themselves of this “funk.” Occasionally, they never remove the disappointment of not feeling challenged or valued, nor do they stop complaining about being bored.
Most often, what is called for is the notion of having to create a “new identity” for themselves, an identity that goes beyond, “I am a retiree.” Truly, for some, that new identity requires a broader use of their talents, in the form of part-time employment, volunteering, providing expertise in an area of interest, consulting, excelling at a sport or cooking, taking on a role of handyman, and so forth.
What men often fail to consider (and there are many exceptions) is that retirement represents a beginning of a time which could last for 20 or more years when they have the freedom to choose a path not previously taken that can give them that sense of achievement, recognition, fulfillment and happiness. It is much like being at the start of their careers in their late teens or their twenties when they could choose how they intended to fill their days. The difference is that in their youth they knew relatively little about what they could be in for in the years to come. Their choices were often dictated by what their counselors, instructors, parents or their friends suggested or thought best for them. In retirement, men can make choices with fewer consequences to themselves or others. They can try things out to see if they like the results. If they don’t like what they experience, they can try other choices.
One can ask the question, “How can men avoid this period of “blues” in the early stages of retirement?” The answer is to seek a coach or “sounding board,” namely an independent person who can pose questions relating to choices and also make suggestions for an individual to consider. There are many professional coaches that can be hired at reasonable rates to assist with this process. Of course, some individuals prefer to analyze the situation for themselves. For them, books may offer the means to self-assessment. One point worth noting…it is best to undergo this examination of choices before the onset of retirement, but when that cannot be done, the watchword should be, “the sooner done the better.”
So what about women? Research indicates in the main, women have more close friends with larger and deeper social networks for sharing and problem-solving their concerns than men do. Women also appear more flexible regarding career transitions. Perhaps because of the demands of child-rearing, women change their career roles more frequently over the years and therefore generally transition into retirement with ease or with minimum disruption. Bottom line—the biggest disappointment women have is finding they have an unhappy spouse around the house.
© Donald C. Strauss and Diane B. Burman
Diane (Dee) Burman is Co-Founder and Director of the RetireRight Center in Chicago, a non-profit organization devoted to educating pre- and post-retirees in the “Art of Retirement,” focusing on non-financial aspects.Ms. Burman worked for over 25 years in the human resources field, both as an independent consultant and for international corporations. She was also founder and first President of the Organization Development Network of Chicago. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. from Middlebury College Graduate School of French in France.
Donald Strauss is Co-Director of the RetireRight Center in Chicago. He is a career and change management consultant, having worked in the human resources and organization development/change management fields in Fortune 100 companies for over 40 years. He also teaches graduate school programs in human resources and career management at Benedictine University. Mr. Strauss has a B.A. from NYU and an M.A. in Labor/Industrial Relations from the University of Illinois.
Together, they are the authors of the book, Customize...Don’t Minimize...Your Retirement: 7 Paths to Explore Possibilities, Choices and Your Future Happiness.