I’ve spoken with countless advisors about their retiring clients. What I’ve learned is that even when a client is secure financially, that doesn’t always equal happiness in retirement. As a society, we haven’t developed good strategies to help people adjust from the work-based life they led for decades to something else.
This disconnect is what led me to begin providing retirement-readiness workshops for advisors’ clients. Through these workshops, I share the array of knowledge I’ve amassed to help guide and engage clients in thinking about retirement. I’ve found that, often, the best place to start is by developing a language of retirement, which helps preretirees anticipate the changes they’ll experience once they stop working.
Finding a New Perspective
One language presented by retirement expert Richard P. Johnson, PhD, includes these six areas of change:
1) Work. Going from employment to not working is a huge adjustment, and many people put it off either out of necessity or preference. In fact, many Americans are working longer. According to a February 2018 fact sheet from AARP, 44 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 reported working part-time, based on a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that this age group, as well as those age 75 and older, “will have faster rates of annual labor force growth than any other age groups.” So, those nearing retirement age may not yet realize that “work” does not need to involve the same roles or responsibilities or even be in the same industry.
What matters is what the work provides. It comes with several benefits—money, of course, but also recognition, socialization, time management, and a sense of purpose. An individual who removes one of those work-related benefits from life will go looking to fill it elsewhere. Certainly Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality and a past keynote speaker at Commonwealth conferences, has been preaching to this industry for decades and recommending that advisors not encourage people to quit working and rush to retirement.
2) Health and wellness. Americans have a reputation for being careless with physical health practices, such as managing their weight and stress, minimizing their drinking and smoking habits, and trying to get enough sleep. Even more startling is that, as a country, we are only now beginning to talk about mental health more openly. That’s as important to address as physical health in retirement; solitude can quickly turn into loneliness unless retirees actively take steps to stay connected. As suicide rates among seniors are steadily increasing, mental and emotional wellness is a serious concern.
3) Wealth. For clients who were raised to save money, the thought of no longer accumulating assets can be scary. Believing money buys happiness is a sad reality for some. To ease into looking at wealth management differently, preretirees should consider the answers to these three questions: Do you have a financial plan for the future? Do you understand your plan? Do you have confidence in your plan? The answers could provide excellent fodder for advisor follow-up.
4) Family and friends. Lifelong friends move away. Family members disperse across the country and world. Both friends and family pass away. The stability of the past will be shaken. Many of us made our closest friends early in life and quit expanding our circles once they got to a certain size. The alert here is that it is critical to continue forming new relationships throughout life with people of all ages. It’s worth strengthening the friend-making muscle that likely weakened over time.
5) Leisure. The premise of the so-called “golden years” needs to evolve. Those nearing retirement may find they can’t do some of the things they used to enjoy. They need to be prepared to discover new activities. Some individuals will just be learning to embrace leisure if most of their life has been oriented toward all work and no play. There’s a shift when entering the decades of retirement from “go, go, go,” to “slow and go,” and finally to “no go,” the stage when the majority of time involves self-care.
6) Personal development. Whether through learning, volunteering, or reassessing life’s meaning, in retirement, we get the time we need to engage in personal development. Learning is critical to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change. When we stop growing, we stop being. Elevate, Commonwealth founder and chairman Joseph Deitch’s new book, talks about the need to engage in continuous learning. Learning through our observations, actions, and reactions is necessary if we want to keep growing. Too bad we wait so long to develop this skill set.
The above list makes up one language of retirement that stretches the traditional and overly simplistic definition of stopping work. By using this language in conversations, you can help clients develop a realistic game plan for retirement.
Achieving Vitality in Retirement
There’s a re-centering that takes place as clients enter their retirement years. Armed with the language of retirement, they can take an active role in maximizing who they are and what they want to be. For retirement vitality and success to happen, clients need to do the following:
- Expect change in all aspects of life at a more rapid pace than ever.
- Embrace a positive attitude toward retirement.
- Develop As we age, loss and bereavement, as well as health issues, may occur more frequently and increase the potential for isolation. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and potentially grow better because of life’s experiences is one aspect that sets apart those who find success in retirement and those who do not.
- Recognize retirement is a process that occurs over years, not on a specific day. Stages of retirement include preretirement, a honeymoon period, disenchantment, reorientation, and routine.
- Clarify what’s most important through soul searching. This may involve making a point to have more conversations, writing letters, and saying thank you—these are all examples of tools retirees can use to check in and confirm that all is right with the world.
- Start with a written game plan that’s easily revised as new layers of retirement are discovered.
Where to Begin
Often, it’s difficult for advisors to convey retirement information to their clients and find the time to get these conversations going. Establishing a workshop for clients that reviews these topics can be a great introduction to a new way of thinking, as well as a natural starting point for further discussion. You can even build action planning right into the event.
The joy for me is in spreading the word. By doing this work with your boomer clients, you’ll enhance your stickiness with them—at a time when advisors need to find ways to differentiate themselves. And once you get started, helping your clients navigate their individual path to a happy and successful retirement is sure to bring you that same joy, too.
What do you think is the key to finding happiness in retirement? How do you help your clients embrace change and think positively as they age? Please share your thoughts with us below!