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Retirement is not an event, but rather a process of transitioning from one stage of life into another


The work of Robert Atchley (1999) succinctly outlines the various stages or phases of retirement that people go through as they exit the work force. These phases do not apply to everyone and not everyone goes through all the phases, but the information adds a richer understanding to the process that you might be going through.


Atchley divides this into remote and near.

Remote‘ refers to the phase where one sees retirement as still a long way off, but an anticipated part of the cycle of work. This is the phase when one should be concentrating on squirreling money away for retirement.

Near‘ refers to the years leading up to the imminent leaving of the formal workforce. Some companies offer psychological guidance, retirement coaching or workshops, others offer no assistance whatsoever. But this is an essential time to start planning the structure that will hold your life together after leaving the formal work, be it planning your change in identity, what will give your life purpose, or reinventing yourself to go back into the workforce in a different format. This all leads up to getting ready for the separation from your job and prepares you for the new social situation ahead.


The actual event of leaving work can be followed by one or more of the following reactions:

The Honeymoon

This applies to the feeling of euphoria and moving through doing all the things you promised yourself you would do in retirement. It can be seen as akin to ticking items off a bucket list!

Immediate retirement routine

This refers to moving into a lifestyle that is satisfying and structured from the beginning. It is usually the result of good planning, where structures have been put in place before the actual retirement event, enabling a smooth transition into retirement when the time comes.

Rest and Relaxation

Here the retiree moves into a period of relaxation after many years of hard work. Atchley and Barusch, after extensive research, hypothesised that “after a long period of having been employed, many people apparently welcome a period of taking it easy. But after sufficient rest and relaxation, and perhaps a lengthy life assessment, they become restless and at that point begin to pursue their planned retirement activities” (Atchley, R. and Barusch, A.S. (2004) Social Forces and Aging (10th Edition) Wadsworth Press.)





This may be as brief as coming to the realisation one evening that you are moving into the penultimate phase of your life and feeling a bit shocked by the fact. But some people find it hard to adjust to retirement. They might go through a period of uncertainty and disappointment after the honeymoon is over. They may miss the engagement with work and the contribution to life. They may feel let down and lapse into a depression.

Some transitional disenchantment might be necessary or inevitable, but prolonged disenchantment could be a warning sign that things are not right.

At risk are those who:

• have few alternatives
• have little money
• have poor health
• were over-involved with their jobs
• have experienced other role losses in addition to retirement
• leave communities where they have lived for a long time


This phase enables the retiree to take stock of where they are and start developing ways of improving their retirement role. They may become more involved in the community around them, they may re-enter the workforce in a different way, or they may simply busy themselves in their family and/or recreational pursuits.

Retirement routine

The retiree settles into the new routine with satisfaction. They feel confident in their role of being ‘retired’.

Termination Phase

This is when we take on a new identity of being frail and elderly. We gradually move into the role of being “sick and disabled” and this together with decreasing mobility becomes the focus of our attention.

These stages are not prescriptive, and one does not necessarily pass through each in sequence, but preparedness and planning for retirement are essential. As more and more people reach the conventional retirement age of 65 and continue working, paired with increasing longevity, we will move through these phases at differing rates and in different ways from the generation before that went before us. It has been said that the first person to live to 135 has already been born!

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