Retiring after a long career usually consists of a series of celebrations. Your employer throws a party. Your colleagues take you to lunch. Your friends and family congratulate you.
A pandemic is the ultimate party pooper.
Transitioning from a full-time job to sudden idleness is rocky even in the best of times. Today, it’s especially challenging.
For someone who’s already ambivalent about shutting the door on decades of satisfying work, saying goodbye virtually—to an empty office—can prove jolting. There’s no one around to hug you on your way out the door.
“There are no ceremonies now,” said Steve Vernon, president of Rest of Life Communications, a retirement education firm in Oxnard, Calif. “When someone retires, there might be an email announcing it and that’s it.”
To make matters worse, some people are retiring prematurely and against their will. If they’re in a pandemic-stricken industry, they may face layoffs or pay cuts.
“I’ve heard doctors in their 60s say, ‘I’m retiring now,’” said Vernon, author of “Don’t Go Broke In Retirement.” “People in public-facing jobs are retiring for COVID-related health reasons,” often years earlier than they planned.
Even if you’re not particularly friendly with your work colleagues, their absence can sting. At least in normal times, they might approach you, shake your hand and dish out compliments you never expected to hear (“There’s something I admire about you that I’ve always wanted to tell you…”).
Good luck getting them to confide in you over Zoom, if you speak with them at all.
“You may not have the opportunity to personally say goodbye,” Vernon said. “One thing that’s underestimated is the importance of social connections and work gives you those. Once you retire, you no longer have that plug-in social life from work.”
He suggests that preretirees devise a strategy for maintaining an active social life after they clock out for the last time. Volunteer at a local nonprofit agency or join groups that share your interests (from hobbyists to political or religious organizations) to ease the transition.
In the weeks just before and after you retire, make lots of calls. Contact your favorite colleagues and perhaps a few of your longtime customers or vendors to thank them and express your desire to stay in touch.
“You want closure. You want a happy ending,” Vernon said. “But you may not get closure coming to you. You need to go get it.”
Preserving old social ties and forging new ones during this period of social distancing paves the way for a smoother retirement. But it’s not enough.
“Our research shows it’s also important to maintain balance in your life as you move into retirement,” said Dr. Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, a health insurer in Bloomfield, Conn. Examples include eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.
It’s tough to follow healthy routines amid a disruptive pandemic, Nemecek adds. So scheduling time for wellness activities, such as brisk walks around the neighborhood, can create new beneficial habits.
“With retirement, what commonly happens is not having that work schedule makes it harder to figure out what to do,” he said. “Sticking to regular sleep and exercise schedules helps. So does making a list of what you want to do each day, using a calendar to track your appointments and reaching out to others and having meaningful interactions with them.”