5 Stages of Retirement
Understanding what the 5 stages of retirement are all about is essential for anyone planning to transition into retirement or are already retired.
When you think about retirement planning most people automatically only focus on how much money they need to fund their future lifestyle. Though retirement is a major life-changing event, you probably have neglected the most important part of retirement planning.
Retirement transition is the process in which individuals adjust to retirement from an active working life and adjust to the lifestyle change brought about by retirement. (1)
What most people are not aware of is the financial side of retirement is less of an issue than the psychological impact many people experience when transitioning into and living in retirement.
“Retirement may be the most challenging thing you will ever do!”
You need to prepare yourself psychologically for this major life-changing event that is retirement. Like any major life-changing event such as getting married or divorced, you will have to transverse a range of emotional highs and lows and being prepared to roll with them and adjust to a new reality.
Generally, there are five emotional or psychological stages that most retirees will experience during their retirement. We will look at the 5 stages of retirement and what you can expect at each of these retirement stages.
What Are the 5 Emotional Stages of Retirement?
What is important for you to understand is that retirement does bring a range of mixed feelings that most people do not expect they would experience nor understand how to best cope with them.
Retirement brings about 50% of the most stressful life events that a person will experience in life and many of these will happen at the same time. (2) You can assess your susceptibility to stress-induced health issues by undertaking one of the online assessments such as The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory to score your current life stress inventory.
You may not necessarily experience each of the 5 stages of retirement as clear and distinct stages but as gradual changes to the way you view your retirement life. In 1976 a professor of gerontology named Robert Atchley proposed a model of seven stages and factors that influenced a person’s adjustment to retirement. (7) Since then various studies have generally supported Atchley’s model although they narrowed the number of stages down to five. (3)
An important aspect to remember about retirement is that it is a major life transition, necessitating a personal re-evaluation of your actual identity and role in life. Regardless of how well you plan for your retirement, you are guaranteed to experience at least some of the 5 stages of retirement.
The 5 stages of retirement can generally be classified as
- Pre-Retirement Planning – Imagination/Anticipation
- The Honeymoon Period – Liberation includes your retirement day
- Early Retirement – Disillusionment/Disenchantment
- Mid Retirement – Reorientation
- Later Retirement – Reconciliation/Moving On
Not all retirees will necessarily pass through all these 5 stages of retirement nor enjoy the same level of satisfaction within the same time frames. However, by knowing the existence of these various phases that people experience when adjusting to retirement will aid you tremendously to effectively plan for the retirement you want.
Additionally, your ability to adjust effectively to retirement is also influenced by other factors including your attitude towards retirement, health situation and if your retirement was voluntary or forced upon you.
As you are reminded all the time – start your retirement planning as early as possible. This will ensure you can reduce at least one major stressor that people have about retiring, which is the money issue.
The 5 Stages of Retirement
Stage 1 – Pre-Retirement: “Daydreaming and thinking”
(Imagination / Anticipation: 10 – 5 years prior to retirement)
This stage of your journey often starts anywhere from 10 years if not earlier leading up to your retirement and is the first stage of the 5 stages of retirement. During which you imagine and dream of what your retirement would be like. Usually, as retirement draws closer people begin to worry and become anxious about whether they will be able to achieve their retirement dreams. Whilst some individuals have a sense of loss as they prepare to leave their working life and former identities behind.
This time should be when you make sure your retirement savings – superannuation accounts are healthy and are on track to provide you with the amount of money you have anticipated you will need. This is important to ensure that you can live life on that amount you have saved and undertake the activities and enjoy the lifestyle you have been dreaming of.
As your retirement date draws closer people become increasingly excited, feeling hopeful and optimistic while also anticipating this next exciting phase of their life.
Many pre-retirees feel overwhelmed with work and look forward to undertaking the none work activities that they enjoy doing. Some people reduce their hours and start spending more time undertaking their current interests or explore new hobbies with the increased time available from not working full time. The feeling of retirement readiness is usually associated with attaining a specific financial figure and/or a specific date that they have set.
Stage 2 – The Honeymoon Period: “Farewell, I’m free”
(Liberation and the honeymoon period including your retirement day: 1 – 3 months after retiring)
This stage occurs immediately following your retirement day and is often the period where new retirees revel in their newfound freedom by casting off the shackles of employment or owning their own business.
You experience a range of positive emotions including:
- freedom, and
Enjoying the lack of deadline pressure and adapting schedules especially for those who have never experienced more than four weeks annual leave at any one time during their working lives.
Many new retirees act as if they are on an indefinite holiday as it is the time for them to do all the things they have been planning to do once they have retired or never had the time to do while they were working.
People embark on overseas holidays, take the opportunity to revisit or start new hobbies, devoting time to various home renovations or just spending more time with family and friends.
The new reality of life soon begins to set in as retirees discover this is the time to monitor their actual living expenses compared to their planned retirement budgets. The need to assess the reality of how well their retirement/superannuation savings will support them through the rest of their retirement.
For an increasing number of older workers in today’s economy, they do not even realize they have effectively “been retired” after leaving their last employer due to retrenchment or end of contract situations. This often is because they mistakenly believed they would be able to “pick up” another job or contract in the short term. The reality of being over 50 and unemployed.
However, after spending over 24 months attempting to gain employment, they often resign themselves to the fact that they will not work again, and retirement is thrust upon them due to circumstances beyond their control.
For an increasing number of people, retirement is not on their terms. Not on the date or at the age they had envisaged, nor when they reached their preconceived ideal dollar amount in their superannuation account.
For these people, their retirement day passes by without any celebratory retirement party nor long farewells from colleagues. Just the harsh reality upon waking up one morning realizing that they are no longer employable, their skills are deemed “stale” by potential employers together with discrimination that is known as ageism – so retirement is the only choice.
Stage 3 – Early Retirement – Disenchantment: “So, this is it!”
(Disillusionment or disenchantment: 1 month – 12 months)
This is the most challenging stage of anyone’s retirement as they become disillusioned with their retirement and therefore life. As the initial enthusiasms and the euphoric feelings of retirement start to recede. It is common for many new retirees to realise the transition to retirement and adjustment is much more challenging than they have ever believed.
Especially, when they discover retirement is not a permanent holiday or they have worked through their planned 3-year retirement bucket list in less than 3 months. Or worse still never really had a plan of what they would do in retirement.
This stage drives home the unavoidable reality that retirement is the loss:
- of life/work routine structure
- of the identity, one had of oneself based on work title or position
- a sense of purpose and power that work once provided, and
- changed social relationships particularly if they were work-related
During this stage, of the 5 stages of retirement, many retirees think of ways to reduce their spending and consider downsizing various aspects of their lives as they adjust to living their retirement lifestyle. Commonly couples will sell their second car and look at other areas whereby they can reduce their expenditure by cancelling various memberships no longer required or reducing home services due to the fact they are no longer working.
This stage may also challenge the previous status quo of relationships as married couples have to adjust to the changing dynamics and the impact this will have on their marriage. Such as the amount of time they spend together and the expectations of the division of household chores. Especially, if one partner was primarily responsible for the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
Other major changes many people contemplate is downsizing their homes to something smaller or even changing location to be closer to family or to the lifestyle they desire.
These are all major life stressors.
During this stage of retirement, many retirees begin to have doubts. Start questioning their retirement decisions and express self-recrimination to their spouses or close friends with phrases like:
- Did I retire too soon?
- Was the timing of my retirement all wrong?
- Did I underestimate my financial needs in retirement?
- What could I do to make myself feel as if I’m being productive like work did?
- Did I miss my opportunity to find my forever house/location?
- Should I have….?
Common Emotional Retirement Issues
Many new retirees are also confronted unexpectedly with boredom, reduced self-esteem, and coping with changing their outlook for this new phase of life. Specifically, transitioning from having the responsibility of working, earning and saving for retirement to having no set structure and spending.
Another major catalyst for many people is:
- the loss of their identity
- a feeling of uselessness and emptiness
- worried and uncertainty about the future
- loneliness due to the lack of workplace interactions
- feelings of isolation, that can be magnified if their partner and friends are still working sometimes leading to bouts of depression if left unchecked
The transition into retirement can be psychologically difficult for many new retirees and is made more difficult especially if a person’s retirement was due to unforeseen health-related issues or forced redundancy.
Whilst other retirees that have retired from lifelong careers or senior management positions may certainly feel as they have, (4) “plunged into the abyss of insignificance”
The emotional challenges are primarily due to the sudden shock of realising that the identity they once associated with based on their job title or work responsibilities is no longer relevant. They struggle with understanding their sense of purpose in life.
For these people, they feel robbed of further opportunities or promotions that would have allowed them to continue working. Alternatively, they may harbour –
of having been forced into retirement earlier than they expected due to redundancy or ill health that they need to come to terms with.
These types of events leading to a person’s “retirement” makes it more challenging emotionally for people that had extraordinarily little control or say of when they were “retired”.
Sadly, for many retirees, this disillusionment can last for years and sadly for some they cannot achieve a sense of closure from their past employment. They are so afflicted and psychologically damaged they cannot progress onwards to experience a satisfying and happy retirement.
Strategies for adjusting to Retirement
There are several strategies that retirees can implement including:
- setting up comfortable daily and weekly routines, with increased structure
- keeping busy by engaging with other people socially
- increasing feelings of contentment by making various realistic goals that they can achieve
- reevaluate relationship boundaries and reconnect with their partners
- find meaningful purposes by undertaking new hobbies or learning new skills
- seeking part-time work or becoming involved in various community activities and volunteering
- take time to reflect upon their past life experiences and acknowledge both the successes and failures and to accept the experiences they had for what they were
- actively moving along with living their next stage of life, being retirement
This specific period can vary greatly depending on when you retired. Typically, it is often between the ages of 55 years of age through to 67 even younger for a small percentage of the population that retired much earlier in life.
Many retirees commence along this path to reinventing and redefining themselves and their role, responsibilities, and position in the community as they transition into the next stage of their retirement.
Stage 4 – Mid Retirement – Reorientation: “This is me now, my new identity”
(Stability – reorientation: 2 – 15 years after retirement)
Many people reinvent themselves and undergo a transformation from what they were before retiring. They will often reflect upon their past life experiences and need to acknowledge both the successes and failures that they have had throughout their lives. They often accept this with a sense of satisfaction that was the life they had before.
They reflect upon what is required to move forward by looking at:
- finding some type of volunteer or part-time work
- regaining some type of schedule and responsibilities
- broaden their interests and take on new responsibilities or challenges
- make new friends and be involved in new social networks
- adopt new daily and weekly routines
Another feature of this stage of retirement is an increased focus on maintaining both mental and physical health. Another consideration is the planning for later retirement regarding the possibility of declining health and the need for medical care associated with ageing.
People start making numerous realistic goals that they want to pursue, and they can achieve in relatively shorter periods. They are actively moving along with living their retirement life.
This often requires people to deliberate upon the issues and figure out what will be best for them by contemplating their answers to the following types of questions:
- figure out why you are unhappy?
- did you really regret your retirement decision?
- do you really miss work and if you do what aspect of it?
- do you need to return to some type of work for financial or social reasons?
- do you miss the feeling of being productive or the recognition that work provided?
Individuals need to face their issues and put them into perspective, context and understand who they are and what would make them genuinely happy. This will enable them to move forward and enjoy the retirement they have.
During this stage, many retirees would have settled into a comfortable routine with increased structure and feel comparatively.
- secure with their life, and
- less consumed with feeling worried or miserable
But remember not everyone goes through this stage of the 5 stages of retirement as:
- some retirees are caught up in the Disenchantment stage and tragically continue their downward spiral into a constant state of depression.
- whereas other retiree’s life revolves around living day to day without any purpose or achieving contentment. They may find themselves planted in front of the television screen spending approximately 43.5 hours week watching TV – essentially replacing their previous work week.(5)
- Whilst other retirees return to life in the honeymoon stage successfully due to their financial independence, and there is nothing wrong with doing that.
Stage 5 – Late Retirement – Reconciliation: “Moving on”
(Termination Phase – routine: 15+ years from Retirement)
This stage of the 5 stages of retirement is often associated with retirees over the age of 70. This is the time that they have fully settled into a daily retirement routine, a pre-planned travel schedule (usually tapering off or adjusting) and living on a very static budget.
They have grown accustomed to the changing landscape of their daily lives and have adapted to this retirement lifestyle as the new normal routine.
Retirees in this stage are most likely to strive to maintain health and independence, enjoying familiar activities rather than new ones. (6) This period of later retirement is prolonged as the life expectancy in various countries is increasing.
It is during this final stage of the 5 stages of retirement that many people if they had not previously considered or planned for will have difficulty with the realization of the inevitable deterioration of one’s health. This includes the onset of dementia, loss of mobility and the possibility of the requirement of 24-hour nursing care.
Atchley (1976) describes the last phase of retirement as the termination phase, where “the retirement role is cancelled out by the illness and disability which sometimes accompany old age” (p. 71). The retirement role may also be cancelled out by death, the loss of financial independence… (7)
Nevertheless, it is important to prepare both financially and emotionally for the possibility that either home or institutionalized care services may be required. Early consideration and planning prior to the situation arising are always prudent.
“a degree of sadness as one begins to confront
one’s mortality and End of Life issues”
This is the time that individuals need to take the opportunity to either start or review their End of Life Planning.
Having an honest and open End of Life Conversations with your family ensures loved ones are fully aware of your values, beliefs and wishes.
Knowing the type and degree of medical intervention and treatment that you would want or not desire if you are unable to communicate your wishes and decisions if incapacitated or seriously ill.
When it comes to your end of life wishes you will want everyone to be on the same page. There will be a number of things that you would want your family to know in the event of your death. Make sure you have completed an:
- Advance Care Plan. including
- Advance Care Directive, and
- Medical Power of Attorney
Check your Will is up to date and any Legacy Letter or Ethical Wills have been completed. Make sure that your important documents such as insurance information, house deeds, any prepaid funeral arrangements, passwords to your digital bank accounts etc. are prepared in case of your death.
Surviving your retirement journey
Your retirement journey is unique and individual. However, the 5 stages of retirement provide a practical guide to enable you to assess where you are positioned in your retirement journey.
These stages are to assist you to understand what you will or have experienced in your retirement journey no matter how different or unique it may be. It offers a preview of what will come next in your retirement journey.
The retirement stages are not distinct but often overlap. Some people may not go through all of the stages and remain in a certain stage/s much longer than others.
You should be able to use these structured stages to put into perspective the many factors that will influence and impact your retirement over the years.
As with most things in our lives your retirement mindset and purpose are more important than comparing yourself with other retirees. What is essential is that you start mapping what you want your retirement to look like.
Nearly all retirees have similar experiences to varying degrees but being aware of the issues you will confront in retirement is a good start to outline the type of retirement that would suit you best.
Retirement mindset planning
Planned Wishes assist people to navigate retirement by helping individuals identify their priorities, values, and dreams for their retirement. By envisioning how you want to spend your retirement years from a lifestyle and emotional perspective before thinking about the amount of superannuation you will need.
The questions that need to be asked as part of your retirement mindset planning should include:
- what do you still want to achieve?
- who you want to spend more time with?
- what are you most passionate about? and
- how do you want to be remembered?
Remember retirement offers more control over your own time and the opportunity to relax doing what you want to do.
Share some of your thoughts or lessons you have learned during your retirement journey by adding a comment below.
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References – 5 Stages of Retirement
- Retirement Transition, Yu S.M., Zhang M.X., Wu A.M.S. (2019) In Gu D., Dupre M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Gerontology and Population Aging. Springer, Cham
- Life, Change, and Stress (Holmes, T.H, & Rahe, R.H.) 1967. Viewed online 4th May 2020.
- The New Retirement Mindscape Study Ameriprise Financial and AgeWave, 2005
- The Hero’s Farwell: What Happens When Ceos Retire, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld Oxford University Press 1991.
- The Five Stages of Retirement: Getting ready for your golden years is about more than money M. Katz (2007), The Street viewed online 5th May 2020
- Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List, Age Wave and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. 2016
- The Sociology of Retirement by Robert C. Atchley Schenkman Pub. Co., New York 1976
5 Stages of Retirement FAQ’s
How can you best adjust to retirement?
Recognise that you will need to adjust mentally and emotionally to living a retirement lifestyle. By understanding the 5 emotional stages of retirement you will have a much better appreciation of what you can expect and how best to adjust, minimise and handle living in retirement.
Do the 5 stages of retirement affect everyone?
Not all retirees will necessarily pass through 5 emotional stages of retirement nor will they experience the same intensity of feelings within the same time frames as others transitioning into retirement.
Regardless of how well you plan for your retirement, you will certainly experience several of the five stages as you mentally adjust to retirement life.
How are the five emotional stages of retirement important?
By acknowledging the existence of the 5 emotional stages of retirement you are better prepared to effectively handle the major life adjustment that retirement has on you personally. As such you will have a more meaningful, happy, and fulfilling retirement and later life experience.
What is the most common emotion experienced by retirees?
Most retirees initially experience a range of positive emotions including happiness, relief, freedom, and euphoria. As retirees progress through their retirement they often are confronted with the feeling of disillusionment, emptiness, loneliness, anger, frustration, isolation and sometimes bouts of depression.
What are the 5 stages of Retirement?
The 5 stages of Retirement help you to understand the emotional stages that you will experience once you retire and what to expect. The stages can generally be classified as –
1. Pre-retirement Planning – Imagination/Anticipation
2. The honeymoon period – Liberation includes your retirement day
3. Early retirement – Disillusionment/Disenchantment
4. Mid retirement – Reorientation
5. Later retirement – Reconciliation/Moving On