This is an excerpt from my book – Rethinking Retirement for Positive Ageing. If you have bought a copy, I’d love to know what you think, and a review on Amazon would help a lot.

Why you should read this chapter

Money is clearly one of the reasons for us to work, but work is far more important than that. Alongside a source of income, work gives us a life routine, a structured use of time, a source of personal status and identity, a context for social interaction, and a meaningful experience that can provide a sense of accomplishment. 

Whilst we could continue in our current work, as we consider retirement, we have many options, from changing career, reducing hours, or a greater focus on volunteering and leisure activity.

We can focus on learning and development or find a passionate interest that takes up much of our time; whether or not it is paid could be less important. All options are considered in this chapter. Have your journal ready and take your time as you work through the activities; this will help you focus, both for now and in the longer term.

Take a break

After leaving our full-time work, most of us need a break, time to step away from the pressure of the job. This can be seen as a sabbatical, a good time to recharge and reflect on life moving forward, time to consider our future and to enjoy an extended holiday. Whether you already have some ideas for what to do or are open to considering options, this chapter is for you … and if you truly don’t want to think about it, you can come back when the time is right.

During this sabbatical period, if it is more than six months, there could be a downside if you want to return to similar work; you can lose touch with business trends and lose touch with your business contacts. If you plan to go back to work, it is worth creating a return-to-work plan, as someone may do after taking a career break for caring duties, to bring yourself up to date. Equally, if you plan to move to something new, you can do courses, undertake shadowing, and volunteer to increase your understanding of the new type of work.

Moving to a life after full-time work can lead to a loss of status, and the more successful you are, the more difficult it can be to transition to something new, as you don’t want to give up this success.

People can also, potentially, lose the meaning and purpose that has been gained from their work, In the transition phase of retirement there is often excitement over how to fill our days, with time for hobbies, interests, and travels. 

However, for some people this is not enough, when work has provided them with a meaningful experience; there is a gap to be filled. Many retired people report feeling a sense of emptiness and loss of meaning in this phase of life.  Being busy is not enough; indeed, it can stop a person taking up the challenge to find meaning. We will focus on meaning in Part 3.


The traditional view of retirement was often based on the male perspective, as 50 years ago fewer women had careers; with more women of my generation approaching retirement, we have differing ideas, as do men!

There is no longer one dominant pattern of retirement; in its place is “a diverse mix of pathways shaped by occupational identities, finances, health, and perceptions of retirement”. 

However, the design of personal retirement plans can still be impacted by various factors such as life events, cultural norms, workplace and governmental policies, and societal expectations and these may not align with evolving perspectives on what constitutes a fulfilling and prosperous retirement.

As we reach our 60s and begin to think of retirement, it can mean different things to different people. We live longer, healthier lives, and this is added to the middle of our life, not the end, so many want to continue with active, engaged lives for longer.

Some people still prefer the traditional clean-break model of retirement, where they stop work completely and transition to a distinct period of leisure in later life. Others will still see retirement as a distinct and desirable phase of life and will continue to engage in a range of work activities, albeit at a potentially reduced scale that provides them with structure and purpose. This can be a move to part-time or flexible working or time to pursue an encore career where people take on a ‘person-driven job’ with a focus on meaning and social impact, or look for a way of spending our time beyond paid work.

More and more people intend to work into retirement, often part-time, and this can include unpaid work – both volunteering and caring duties. A survey from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave said that over 60 per cent want to work to stay mentally active and 46 per cent to remain physically active.

A third option is to stop seeing retirement as a distinct phase and this is where I see the future for many of those who follow us. People will move in and out of work and as they return to study, care for children, care for their parents, take a sabbatical, and continue with this pattern until they reach old-old age and are unable to continue.

Sometimes we can feel forced into retirement; there is some subtle pressure from our colleagues and manager. Barry was told by his younger workmates that he was too old for the job and noticed that people around his age were leaving. Lyn felt she had no option, as she had to take on caring duties for both her mother and husband. Margaret was feeling burned out, but with a final salary pension she was in a fortunate position and chose to stop work and instead focused on her interests.

The age of 66 should not be the end of our time of contribution, but contribution can be broader than continuing to work, even though the UK government want people to remain in the workforce.

After full-time work, many people remain socially productive members of society, even though they may not be financially productive. They may not be in paid work, but undertake caring responsibility and volunteering. It can be argued that this is important ‘work’ and has been included in definitions of productive activity.

When I’ve run pre-retirement seminars, most delegates were not interested in considering this area and preferred to think of the holidays, the grandchildren, the updating their home and garden, but whilst these fill the time, they don’t fulfil the full breadth of what we miss from work. It was always satisfying to have people contact me a couple of years on, feeling lost and adrift and ready to consider work and the alternatives, wishing they had explored it earlier.

As we consider our options it is worth thinking about what sort of routine will be right for you. To what extent is identity important to you? What gives you meaning and a sense of accomplishment? How will you live in line with your values? What will give you space to develop and grow? But let’s start by looking back on your working life and how satisfied you were with it.