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Coaching Clients Through Retirement

Posted by Pauline Johnson-Zielonka, Ph.D. | December 1, 2021 | Comments (0)

Retirement is a time to celebrate, with increased freedom, personal choice and the ability to manage one’s own time. No longer burdened with work obligations and responsibilities, retirees often experience reduced stress and better sleep. There is more time for family, old hobbies, or new experiences.  But, despite these opportunities, as many as 1 in 3 retirees struggle with their new lifestyle.* 

What are retirees struggling with, and how can we help them become better prepared?

Once the novelty of a new lifestyle wears off, retirees can start to feel bogged down by feelings of aimlessness and a lack of motivation. They miss the interactions they had at work, which they find are quite different from those in retirement. Some even feel as though they have lost a part of themselves, reporting feelings of devastation and even bereavement. Others describe feeling they have gone from being a somebody, to being a nobody.”  

These social and psychological adjustments often take retirees by surprise, leading many to simply return to work.** Of course, returning to work is not always possible. But more importantly, we can be doing more to support a sense of meaning, fulfillment and greater levels of well-being in retirement. With so much great thought, planning and energy put into helping people discover fulfilling careers, it’s time to give the same care and attention to retirement life. 

Supporting clients in the retirement transition starts with developing a more balanced, realistic view of it: When do retirees thrive? And what are the sticking points? An understanding of the adjustments that are commonly experienced enables us to support retirees through a smooth transition.  

Here are a few points to keep in mind when working with retirees or pre-retirees:  

1. Perceptions of retirement impact planning, adjustment, and well-being. 

Overly positive views of retirement as a time of bliss and relaxation often contribute to poor planning for retirement, both financially and psychologically. On the other hand, negative views often equate retirement with boredom, health decline and even death. The latter view leads people to avoid retirement altogether and can have big consequences for health and well-being. However, neither of these reflect typical retirement experiences. For most people, it is a mix of pros and cons, with both opportunities and challenges. 

It is critical that we understand clients’ views of retirement, and how this relates to their preparation for it. Successfully navigating retirement might mean that we first reframe what it represents, and develop a more balanced, long-term perspective. 

2. Work experiences form the foundation for retirement.

Whether a client becomes immersed in projects at work, thrives on the social elements of it, or simply views work as a source of income, these career experiences become woven into the retirement transition. Work also forms a large part of our personal life stories and sense of identity. Retirement becomes a continuation of this story and, oftentimes, a shift in identity.  

Reflecting on career experiences and understanding the meaning your client makes of their work will help in understanding what the retirement transition signifies for them. 

3. The quality of planned pursuits matters.  

Reduced activity levels are associated with lower levels of wellbeing in retirement. However, identifying a few engaging pursuits may be more important for well-being than simply filling one’s calendar. Volunteer work, for instance, is found to support well-being in retirement, but only when the retiree sees it as positive, meaningful, or inspiring.*** Opportunities for problem solving become much more difficult to come by in retirement, and can play an important role in self-esteem.  

With these sort of changes in daily activities, we need to take a hard look at the quality and characteristics of different retirement pursuits, and how they may support well-being. 

4. Relationships also go through adjustments.

With most of our daily interactions occurring at work, our social worlds tend to undergo a drastic change after retirement. Even seemingly insignificant interactions on the way to work can contribute to positive feelings and help to fill our social bucket, as a part of general well-being. And with more time spent at home, close personal relationships often go through new and unanticipated adjustments. These changes play a significant role in retirement well-being. 

Exploring the quality of clients’ relationships and networks, and how these may evolve with retirement, is a crucial part of helping them navigate a smooth transition. 

While there is so much focus on wellbeing at work, we also have an opportunity, as coaches, to help clients better prepare as they transition out of work – whether retirement is by choice or circumstance. This might mean simply planting small seeds that can be carried into retirement, or providing more focused support with thoughtfully designed coaching programs.

For more information on the retirement transition and retirement life planning, join us at RetirementLifePlan.com/Coaches. 


*Wang, M. (2007). Profiling retirees in the retirement transition and adjustment process: Examining the longitudinal change patterns of retirees’ psychological well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology 92 (2): 455-474.  

 **Jacobs, Lindsay, and Suphanit Piyapromdee (2016). Labor force transitions at older ages: Burnout, recovery, and reverse retirement,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2016-053. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2016.053. 

 ***James, B., Besen, E., Matz-Costa, C., & Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2012). Just do it?…maybe not! Insights on activity in later life from the Life & Times in an Aging Society Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College.

Pauline Johnson-Zielonka, Ph.D.

Pauline Johnson-Zielonka, Ph.D. is an author and the founder of Retirement Life Plan. With a background in Industrial Psychology, and a focus on well-being at work, she became interested in the retirement transition during her doctoral studies. Through her research on retirement adjustment, she identified common areas of retirement adjustment and well-being. These have formed the basis for her courses and other resources offered by Retirement Life Plan.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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