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What Gold Watch?

Richard Connor

RECENT NEWS ARTICLES have noted the sharp increase in early retirements, many triggered by the pandemic. Just over 50% of Americans age 55 and older are now retired, a two percentage point increase from 2019, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

I have several friends and colleagues who are bucking that trend and instead delaying their retirement. They’re financially set but concerned about the transition from fulltime work to “doing nothing.” Yet some of these same workers are also struggling with changes in their companies and industries. The stress is making them feel as if they’ve had enough.

My wife has two former colleagues in this situation. Both women are successful executives in health care. Both are retirement age and trying to figure out if they’re ready to quit. One tried to switch her schedule to part-time. She found she never actually stopped working fulltime, so she went back to fulltime status. Both women are married and their husbands are already retired.

Their employer has gone through significant change in the past five years, including acquisitions, mergers, teaming with a private equity firm and leadership changes. They’re finding that their experience, skills and knowledge are less valued by the new leadership.

This can create a quandary for someone close to retirement. You may be financially ready to retire, but not mentally, and yet your job situation is hinting it’s time to get out.

I saw this happen numerous times over my last decade at my former employer, Lockheed Martin. New leadership brings in new ideas and organizational structures. Some of it was driven by the government, which was our primary customer. Some of it was driven by changes in technology.

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The result was that many successful senior employees quietly left. They weren’t as valued any longer. It was sad to watch a successful colleague leave under less than glorious circumstances.

In my last management position, I oversaw the winding down of one of our largest systems engineering programs. It took a few years and, by the end, we had let about 50 people go. Some were able to find new jobs within the company, some found new jobs outside and many quietly retired.

For about 12 months, we held a weekly goodbye luncheon for those leaving that week. We all got farewell fatigue. The mood was somber.

Having watched my friends and colleagues leave, I tried to prepare myself for my turn. My last day was March 31, 2017. I was one of the last to leave the program. They scraped together a mix of employees for a brief farewell lunch.

When I had a chance to say a few words, I expressed gratitude for the interesting and challenging work, and for the many wonderful, intelligent people I’d worked with. And I sincerely meant every word of it. But later, it was hard not to think of it as an inglorious way to exit. I honestly would have preferred to leave quietly.

I have no solutions to offer for this quandary, except to recommend that folks start preparing for their retirement as early as possible. I put lots of time and energy into making sure my wife and I were financially ready. But I put much less effort into preparing mentally and physically for retirement.

One important step is to make an honest assessment of your job, your skills and the likelihood of working for as long as you want at your current employer. Stopping work—especially work that you enjoyed—is a big transition. When it comes about not because of your choice, but because of someone else’s assessment of your value, it can be doubly hard to accept. My advice: Prepare as best you can—and do so as early as you can.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. He enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.

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Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
1 month ago

Interesting piece. I’m kind of amazed at the 50% number. I just turned 55, and we’re in that period of waiting for our investments to grow a bit more before it seems ‘safe’ to retire – though I could probably retire now and we’d make it. I guess it’s the ‘few more years’ syndrome. I still have something to contribute, but certainly can’t see staying more than perhaps 5 more years.

A co-worker across the country just retired (my co-workers are geographically distributed). The retirement party was a bit sad, not too many people he worked with before, and frankly most of us didn’t know him that well. I, too, am looking at the ‘just slide on out’ option as the most palatable.

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
1 month ago

I enjoyed my career in media relations for one of the largest universities in the country and expected to retire there at my full retirement age of 66 and 4 months. During my 10 years, I had above-average annual reviews and I completed a master’s degree in a related field at the univesity. Alas, that same year at age 58, a new assistant VP wanted to lure a person from our foundation to our office and couldn’t find money in the budget so she eliminated mine and gave a new job to her. Despite my degrees and experience there and at newspapers for 25 years, I couldn’t find another job in my field. 18 interviews in 18 months. Finally took a job as an administrative assistant at one of the colleges and stayed there for more than 4 years. Huge cut in pay. Bad fit my skills and education. When Covid struck, I was turning 64 and ready to retire despite not having as much for retirement except a state pension. Sometimes you need to roll with the punches.

Jeff Bond
Jeff Bond
1 month ago

This is great advice for those considering retirement in the near term. I worked for a software company and had a plan for when I would retire. The company culture was changing rapidly and at times I wasn’t sure I even wanted to stay on until I reached the date I’d selected. Then, COVID happened. I did not get one last trip to headquarters to say goodbye. I worked from a home office long before COVID happened, but I still enjoyed the HQ visits to connect personally with my coworkers. During my final two weeks, there were a lot of emails and telephone calls, and it turned out that was enough for me.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeff Bond
Guest
Guest
1 month ago

Thank you Mr. Connor. Whoever said “Leave when you’ve had enough and have enough” has it right. Just because folks “retire” from their current job doesn’t mean they need to be all done and head out to pasture. If I have the financial resources but I’ve had enough of all the BS at work, I’d just leave and decide what’s next. Naturally the key is having the financial resources to be the one to make the decision to leave on my terms. I’m so grateful I learned to save and invest early in life so I am in the driver’s seat during my later working years..

Last edited 1 month ago by Guest
Mark Schwartz
Mark Schwartz
1 month ago

Spot on with your retirement summary Rick.. seems that the new guard always has better ideas and a much different prospective on how things need to be done. I knew it was my time when I was asked to pontificate my thoughts on whether holding a door for another human being behind you could be considered offensive to them? … of course this topic of discussion was raised by my early 30’s new milenum manager… that’s when I knew it was my time to retire…

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
1 month ago

I’m one of those folks who, in just a few weeks, will retire on my 55th birthday. I may still pick up a part-time job after my husband and I relocate to Arizona, but I hope I can spend at least a few years just enjoying life.

In the 24 years I’ve been working at a college, I’ve seen many changes in technology. When I first started working, I had to place all my vendor orders via telephone. Online ordering wasn’t a thing. My knowledge of lab techniques back then was also top-notch. I knew all the latest molecular biology techniques and could share my knowledge with the students. These days I can’t even comprehend the types of techniques the students are performing.

I feel a bit like a dinosaur so I’m happy to go. The job has been a good one for me, but it’s never been something I’ve been really passionate about. I’ve done my time and I’ve done a lot of good work, but it’s time to let someone else bring in their expertise.

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