Retirement adjustment can be studied using personality theory, which offers insights into behaviour and subjective experiences. The ‘Big Five’ factors – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism – are commonly used to measure personality traits. These traits encompass various behaviours and motivations.

Research has found that high conscientiousness, agreeableness, and low neuroticism, particularly in relation to depression and vulnerability, are associated with retirement satisfaction.

Extraversion is also linked to positive outcomes in retirement, as it is connected to increased social and leisure activities. Interestingly, while the studies supported the personality traits of conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and low neuroticism, openness did not emerge as a significant factor. It is possible that openness is better understood as a value.

Evidence suggests that personalities undergo changes across the five dimensions of the Big Five traits between the ages of 20 and 40. As individuals enter their 60s, conscientiousness tends to increase gradually, while openness and extraversion tend to decrease. It is important to note that these are general trends, and individual differences exist.

Additionally, as individuals become more authentic and truthful in their responses, their assessment results may differ from previous assessments conducted for purposes such as promotions or recruitment.

A study found that after retirement, individuals described themselves as less fast-paced, vigorous, competitive, and argumentative compared to their pre-retirement selves. This may indicate that during assessments, individuals tend to think of their ideal workplace selves rather than their true selves.

For some individuals, their work-oriented personalities may not align with retirement. Those who are driven to achieve and pursue personal goals often exhibit lower agreeableness and higher extraversion.

In addition to the Big Five traits, having a proactive personality is crucial for a successful adjustment to retirement.

A proactive personality is characterized by high initiative, self-direction, and a willingness to seek out opportunities for growth and change. Research suggests that individuals with a proactive personality are more likely to shape their environment actively rather than passively reacting to it.

During the retirement transition, having a proactive personality can help individuals navigate the challenges and seize opportunities to explore new interests, develop social connections, and enhance overall life satisfaction and well-being. Retirees with a proactive personality tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction, positive emotions, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Based on my research, the most favourable personality characteristics for a successful retirement adjustment include high levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, low neuroticism, generativity, and a proactive personality.

Personally, I exhibit extraversion but also value self-sufficiency and contentment in solitude. For instance, I am comfortable attending a concert alone but also enjoy engaging with other fans. Others perceive me as warm, friendly, and optimistic. While I may not adhere to all rules if I don’t see their significance, I understand the importance of certain guidelines.

Whilst I have suffered from stress, depression, and anxiety in the past, I’m now more likely to be calm – well, most of the time. I also have an optimistic personality, indeed, a previous boss used this as a ‘put down’ to me. The proactive personality really sums up my personal style: keen to take the initiative and focused on achieving goals. I look ahead and anticipate problems. At this stage of life, I’m stepping up to the role of ‘wise elder’ and beginning to consider more about future generations and, more widely, the planet.

To what extent do you have a proactive personality?

How many of these statements do you agree with? Chose 1 for Strongly disagree, 2 for Disagree, 3 for Neutral, 4 for Agree and 5 for Strongly agree

  • I proactively take action to complete tasks.       1 2 3 4 5
  • I identify opportunities for improvement.   1 2 3 4 5
  • If I believe in something I will make it happen. 1 2 3 4 5
  • I set high targets for myself.                                1 2 3 4 5
  • I am confident in my ability to succeed.      1 2 3 4 5
  • I am passionate about turning ideas into reality.     1 2 3 4 5
  • l focus on achieving my goals despite opposition from others. 1 2 3 4 5
  • I seek a positive outcome in a new situation.          1 2 3 4 5

Your self-assessment

Review your answers to these questions. The higher your score, the more you measure to the proactive personality. If you have been proactive throughout your career, you are likely to continue in this transition to later life.

Proactive behaviour can be learned.

What can help is to focus on goal setting and a focus on your future plans. After looking at your results, make a note of any action you could take. If you are not proactive, you may benefit from talking through possibilities with others, both to identify and to see how you can follow through. If this doesn’t come easy to you, working with a retirement coach can help.

This is based on content from my latest book – Rethinking Retirement for Positive Ageing. The bonuses are still available 🙂