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HR after retirement – Stopped dead

My grandfather retired on his 65th birthday in July. In December of the same year, he died. This is not an unusual story, as many people die shortly after they retire, but is this a correlation or causation? Dr. Lynda Shaw Psychologist, cognitive and business neuroscientist, explores.

Research suggests that for those who retire, clinical depression increases, which may be attributed to a shrinking social network and feelings of no longer being ‘useful’; as well as a decline in general health perhaps due to less physical and mental simulation. In fact, according to a study by Behncke (2012)*, retirement increases the risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, raised cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. On the face of it, there seems a contradiction here. If retirement is responsible for ill health and even death, why is it that life expectancy is increasing even though, to date, the majority of people still retire at traditional age? To answer this, we need to look at how work has changed and what retirement means these days.

The nature of work in modern society has shifted. Where once we saw many workers employed in agriculture and manufacturing requiring a high level of physical strength, today we are much more a service economy, whereby cognitive and interpersonal skills are in greater demand. This means that a natural age-related, physical decline does not negatively affect work performance. People, therefore, are able to contribute for longer, thus supporting our innate need to feel valued and valid, which boosts self-worth and self-esteem, both of which adds to physical and mental well-being.

Equally, not so long ago workers often retired because of ill health, this too has changed, as increasingly older people are healthier than they have been in the past. Perhaps we should look at what retirement means today compared to years gone by. In the past, people stayed with the same company all their working life, and their job was clearly their identity. Retiring was not an option and for many, their job and identity made an exit together, leaving time for gardening, reading and little else.  In the 21st century this attitude has changed. Retirement can mean reinvention with a plethora of opportunities to learn and develop and many starting their own businesses. Along with this development, people embark on new jobs and brand new interests.

There is another dynamic to consider, finances. If more and more people are celebrating their 100th birthday and they worked the traditional 50 years, this means that they will have contributed to their bank balance for 50 percent of their lives. The numbers just don’t add up. Pensions do not keep up with inflation, care homes and carers are expensive and there are plenty of young people who cannot afford to get on the property ladder, which means they will probably have little to sell to finance their later years. So what have we got? Research demonstrating that we are healthier when we work; jobs that no longer demand physical output; we are generally healthier than ever before; opportunities to grow and develop are in abundance; worrying financial implications of living longer. It would seem that there is a real need to keep working beyond traditional retirement age and it’s good for us. That said there are millions of people who dislike their work and wish to retire as soon as possible. If those people can afford not to earn money, then perhaps the answer is to make sure that they occupy their time with stimulating hobbies or charity work. A high level of self esteem and self worth are at the core of physical and mental well being, as is a social network. On the other hand, if we love our work or wish to reinvent ourselves and keep working at something new and inspiring, now couldn’t be a better time. The next hurdle will be to convince companies that older workers are worth employing.

* S Behncke (2012) Does retirement trigger ill health? Health Economics vol 21 (3) 282-300

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