Work until you die! That was the way it was until the late 19th century. Farming was the mainstay of our economy, and men worked as long as their health allowed them to work. As they aged, many would cut back their hours and the amount of physically demanding activities by leveraging hired hands or their sons.
Until the late 19th century, that was the old-age plan for the bulk of the world’s workers. In 1889, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced modern pensions in the form of government-run financial support for older members of society. In other words, retirement, a radical idea for those times. Back then, people simply did not retire.
When the concept of retirement started to catch on, people only lived shortly after their normal retirement date. With today’s life expectancy, people are living two or three decades in retirement. Preparing for retirement is something that needs to begin several years in advance.
Work provides us so much more than a paycheck. Let’s explore the five areas that work provides in our lives and how we need to think about each of them as we prepare for retirement.
Financial benefit. We get compensated for our efforts in our work. It provides us with a way to pay for things in our lives and can be a measuring stick of success. When we enter into retirement, we need to replace that income stream. Typical ways people do that are through retirement savings such as a 401(k) or IRA, a brokerage account, personals savings, social security, an annuity and/or a pension. Figuring out your distribution strategy in retirement is an art and science. Keep in mind, most people are spending more money in the early years of retirement than when they were working. Retirement is expensive.
Status. When we work, we have business cards with fancy titles, corner offices and perks like company cars. You may be the “go-to-guy” or the “guru” of your shop. People count on us. They call us. They need us! However, once you leave your employer behind, the phone doesn’t ring too often, the emails dry up (except for the junk ones) and few people are looking for your input and opinion. Retirement can be devastating for many, especially those who were used to being somebody. Finding ways to contribute beyond oneself is a terrific way of being valuable to others and may fulfill a need of the retiree.
Purpose. Work gives us a reason to be get up every day. Most of us are working in some capacity for an organization that has a greater good, helps others, makes things people need or where people count on us. When you stop working, what will compel you to get out of bed each morning? What will you contribute to society? How will you make a difference? Humans continue to thrive when they have a purpose and are still learning. Without purpose, many retirees begin to decline.
Foundation for time management. Work helps us structure our time. When we work, we have to be dressed, out of the house in order to meet our commitments. It’s nice to have an unstructured day every once in a while but if every day in retirement is unstructured, we tend to get nothing done—fast. Creating some type of schedule and sticking to it leads to productivity. Making commitments to exercise on a regular basis, eat meals with a consistent schedule, scheduling activities so that time doesn’t just slip away are all key steps toward vitality.
Socialization. Water cooler talk at work is a very important part of the workday. We are social animals and we thrive when we are with others. When we stop working, many retires can spend a lot of time at home, possibly isolated. Retirees need to plan for how they will stay involved in activities with others. Volunteering can be a wonderful way to fill the void after work stops. Start thinking about what passions and interests you have that you might be able to share with others.
Retirement has become an important part of our life’s journey. It’s most enjoyed when it’s planned thoroughly ahead of time. Most retirees focus on income replacement strategies. However, replacing the other aspects a career provided are equally important. Finding ways to replace what we get from work may ensure that the decades in retirement are bigger and better than the past.