The Six Phases of Retirement

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Retirement, as a life stage, means different things to different people.  Apart from exiting paid work on a permanent basis, many look forward to giving up the daily commute, taking a well-earned rest, and spending more time with the important people in our lives, and on the activities we enjoy.  To develop a broader perspective of this stage of life, it’s helpful to refer to Robert Atchley’s[1] theory of retirement as a dynamic process, rather than a life event.  Atchley identified the following six common phases with an accompanying series of adjustments: –  

  1. ‘Pre-retirement’ – Disengaging from your job, making the decision to quit, and planning your future.  The ‘Retirement Event’ – Exiting the workplace – the handover of responsibilities, and the farewell function.
  2. ‘Retirement’ – The period that commences immediately after leaving the workplace.  This includes the ‘Honeymoon’ period – a time to travel, play, pursue leisure activities, the development of new routines, and or a period of relaxation.  This phase plays out different for each individual and can last months or even years.
  3. As time passes, ‘retirement’ may not meet everyone’s expectations.  ‘Disenchanted’ individuals experience disappointment, uncertainty, a lack of purpose, poor health, financial insecurity, loneliness and/or sadness – maybe through loss of a loved one. 
  4. ‘Re-orientation’ often follows the disenchantment phase.  Retirees commonly ask, ‘Now what’, reassess the situation, and make new plans.
  5. ‘Stability’ – After a period of experimentation, new routines can be established that provide stability and contentment.
  6. ‘Adaptation to retirement’.  Lifestyle changes are made to adjust to the changes that accompany longevity.

It’s important to note that not everyone systematically experiences each phase of this dynamic process.  Nevertheless, it’s a useful model to reflect on as few of us are prepared for the ongoing adjustments we will need to make during this period of our lives.  Furthermore, this model is unrelated to one’s chronological age, which after all, is just a number!

[1] Robert Atchley, was a professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology and former director of Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center.

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