Independence, identity, planning and staying socially connected says Anastasiia Fedeeva, Postgraduate Researcher, from Northumbria University
For the last two and a half years, I have been working on a PhD that aims to promote wellbeing and physical activity in retirement. Over this time some people have asked me whether I ever felt too young to understand what retired people might need to live their lives better. I must admit that is a fair question but not just because of the potential age difference with my target population.
First, before designing and implementing any initiatives to promote wellbeing or physical activity, it is recommended that you have a good knowledge of the people that you want to help; their needs, preferences, and feelings (Laverack, 2017). Furthermore, retirement itself is a unique and complex phenomena. Retirement experiences vary considerably between individuals and are influenced by a variety of contextual factors, for example the characteristics of a job, personal health, social networks, or whether a spouse is working (Wang, 2007). Therefore, it is important to understand the gaps in what can predict positive retirement (Amabile, 2019; Van Der Zwaan et al., 2019). One way to explore retirement more comprehensively is by conducting qualitative research to find out about the experiences of retirees, as this allows us to identify the key ways in which people adapt to a successful retirement in connection with individual and contextual factors. That’s why I spent several months last year conducting focus groups and individual interviews in order to better understand psychological predictors of retirement adjustment such as people’s attitudes, feelings, and behaviours.
To understand what is so good and bad about retirement, it is important to recognise what people leave behind after quitting their jobs. Work brings a lot of positives to our lives and this is not only limited to our finances. Among the most common benefit is the feeling of belongingness and connectedness with our colleagues. Retired people can be very concerned about losing valuable connections from their previous employment. For some, work may be the main source of social interaction, and those people might feel particularly vulnerable in retirement.
Another positive aspect of work is in giving us an identity. If you ask people: “Who are they?”, very often the first answer would be related to the person’s work role. As people leave employment, they can no longer define themselves by their professions, and it brings the question: “Who are they now?” Although work identity can be substituted with other roles, such as those that are family or hobby-related, this process might take some time and individual effort. For those with a particularly strong attachment to work, such identity transition can be very challenging.
However, one benefit associated with retirement that many look forward to, is increased freedom and independence. Most are excited to have the opportunity to finally live in accordance with their own preferences and choices, free from work-associated obligations and routines. This desire for independence seems to develop beyond just freedom from work commitments. Retired people value independence in other areas of life as well, and sometimes this even takes precedence over the importance of social connections. One reason can be that people of retirement age have already had all variety of commitments, including work and family responsibilities, and retirement is viewed as a relief from that. Another possible reason is that retirement is seen by many as the beginning of ‘old age’. As individuals acknowledge age-related health decline, they start appreciating physical and mental independence more than ever.
Additionally, some recently retired people see creating a new routine as another restriction to their freedom but planning day-to-day activities can be beneficial for wellbeing in the long-run. Planning seems to enable a better use of this increased freedom by helping retirees to participate in different activities of their choice. Thus, establishing new routines can be remarkably empowering as they foster feelings of control, sense of purpose and self-value, that “I’ve got my life back!”.
As such, regardless of the differences in experiences and expectations, social connectedness, independence, successful identity transition, and planning activities in retirement appeared to be important for the vast majority of my participants. These findings supported and added to our ideas on how to promote healthy retirement.
Personally, I feel privileged to have shared in the stories of retired adults. This has made me feel much closer to them – they aren’t ‘just participants’ anymore but real people who have gone through life’s joys and struggles. I have realised even more that despite the generational, cultural, and life experience gaps, we might just be looking for the same things that contribute to our happiness and wellbeing after all.
- Laverack, G. (2017). The challenge of behaviour change and health promotion. Challenges, 8(2), 25. Retrieved from: https://www.mdpi.com/2078-1547/8/2/25
- Wang, M. (2007). Profiling retirees in the retirement transition and adjustment process: Examining the longitudinal change patterns of retirees’ psychological well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 455-474. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17371091
- Amabile, T. M. (2019). Understanding Retirement Requires Getting Inside People’s Stories: A Call for More Qualitative Research. Work, Aging and Retirement. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/workar/article/5/3/207/5521007
- Van der Zwaan, G. L., Hengel, K. M. O., Sewdas, R., de Wind, A., Steenbeek, R., van der Beek, A. J., & Boot, C. R. (2019). The role of personal characteristics, work environment and context in working beyond retirement: a mixed-methods study. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 92(4), 535-549. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00420-018-1387-3
- "Your father's opted out of a dignified retirement." by Grizelda Grizlingham via University of Kent, British Cartoon Archive (Reference number: GGD1456, Published by: Spectator, 02 Mar 2018, with thanks to Copyright holder: Grizelda Grizlingham): https://archive.cartoons.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=GGD1456&pos=23