Retirement is a big step in any employees life, and one that can impact greatly on an individual’s wellbeing without the right support or information. SBT looks at the most recent research, which suggests that more control over the retirement process and perhaps a more gradual transition could have a substantially more positive impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing in later life

We’ve all heard the statistics about health and wellbeing in the workplace, with free time, a healthy work-life balance, eating well and sleeping well being the main priorities whilst working. Health, wellbeing and education charity, Central YMCA, recently highlighted that being at work is the most common situation in which people feel their happiness is decreased – with a fifth of people stating this. The 1,000 respondents stated they feel wellbeing at its highest when on holiday (66%), when spending time with family (56%), or whilst socialising with friends (49%) – signalling the importance of creating a healthy work-life balance.

Nancy Hey, Director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, which commissioned the research by the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Reading and Sheffield, said: “Good work is really important for our overall life satisfaction and how we retire matters. When we’ve gone around the UK asking what quality of life looks like, the importance of wellbeing at work consistently comes up.”

You’d think then that retiring would be a god-send to wellbeing. However, it seems that stopping work has some potentially very negative effects on end-of-life health and wellbeing. A recent study, which looked at all existing research on the topic of retirement, found that a sudden end to a career can have a huge impact on an individual’s wellbeing. The extent of an individual’s wellbeing depends on whether employees had control over when they retired, rather than being forced out through ill health or restructuring. Leaving a more prestigious, satisfying job was unsurprisingly found to decrease life satisfaction on retirement, and in addition, men were found to struggle more when they retire if their wives are still working. Predictably, retirees who are satisfied with their home lives and had support networks fare much better than those who don’t, but even with the support in place, retiring is a stressful change.

Mark Bryan, Reader in Economics at University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, commented: “The evidence on wellbeing points to the importance of giving people control over their retirement decision – both through support for people who wish to stay in work and decent pension provision for those who wish to retire.”

What was suggested by the findings was that employers should support older workers to ‘wind-down’ into retirement, providing bridging jobs or reducing their working hours to avoid poor wellbeing and improve end of life satisfaction.

Sara Connolly, Professor of Personal Economics in the Norwich Business School, and co-author of the study, said: “The research identifies the importance of planning – financially, psychologically and socially – for retirement, which ensures that retirement isn’t a sudden shock to the system.

“It also emphasis the role that employers can play by offering bridge jobs which can help older workers prepare for retirement and means that their valuable skills and experience aren’t suddenly lost to their firms.”

So offering support, control and the option of ‘bridging jobs’, whether through going part time in your current role or shifting to a different flexible solution, seem to be the answer for those who may struggle at the end of their careers. But equally, those who take up bridge jobs only because of financial strain and not a drive to continue work to some extent, tend to experience a drop in wellbeing rather than an increase. Those who take up bridge jobs for social or enjoyment reasons have a greater level of life-satisfaction than their pre-retirement levels, so the circumstances must be right. It’s a tough balance.

Since the government is already encouraging workers to prolong their working life, it certainly seems necessary to implement more support for older workers. “Policy needs to reflect the changing patterns and ways of working, and how that impacts how, why and when we retire. A sudden shift from employed to retired isn’t working,” says Nancy Hey.

Here are some ways in which employers can help:

  1. Worker’s Control: employers can introduce measures that support older workers with health problems who wish to work longer.
  2. Pension Saving Support: employers can offer better pension saving support and provide more information on retirement planning. This is particularly important for low-earners.
  3. Late Career Reviews: employers can offer older staff reviews, talks or seminars to encourage planning for retirement.
  4. Bridging Jobs: employers can offer more flexible work towards the end of their older employee’s careers, providing them with a part-time option or alternative role that suits a transition into retirement.