Retirement. Many claim that it is the happiest stage of our lives, yet at the same time, the ‘retirement blues’ are all too common. So common, in fact, that experts say that depression amongst those of us retiring is steeply on the rise; due in part to the fact that most Australians are simply not financially prepared for retirement, but also, and perhaps more importantly, due to the fact that many of us feel lost without the social connection, structure, intellectual challenge and sense of purpose that work provides.
But whose responsibility is it to help us better manage our retirement? In years gone by, when we had the same job for our entire lives, we could look forward to a retirement supported and funded by the company we’d served for our entire career. But since this type of arrangement all but ended (around the time Australia introduced compulsory superannuation) the role for companies in helping us transition to retirement has been all but clear.
So what exactly should employers be doing to help us manage our retirement? And perhaps just as importantly, how can they help us better manage transition to retirement from a whole-of-life perspective?
What do employers currently offer?
For most of us, retirement is an abrupt affair – just like quitting our jobs, except it’s forever.
Usually, we’ll simply nominate a retirement date, notify our manager and the HR department, and that will be just about the end of it. We’ll be expected to have financially planned for our own retirement, and rarely will transition to retirement options have been offered to us, unless we’ve specifically sought them out.
Although this is beginning to change with some pioneering companies now offering flexible and part-time work to people of potential retirement age, it is all too common for companies to treat retirement as simply an end state; not one of the many all-important career transitions that happen and an opportunity to better serve their employees.
Some financial support becoming available
Perhaps in response to the fact that 80% of Australians retire without enough superannuation, the government has put more pressure on employers to help prepare their people for retirement. And in turn, employers have responded by providing more financial support for employees.
Common options offer by employers and HR departments alike include advice on how to access super and the pension, information on financial planning, and structures for best utilising leave. Yet, this approach, concentrated simply on the financial side of things, renders most of us ill-prepared for the social, emotional and intellectual transition that retirement can bring.
And not only does this approach not serve our needs; it can also be a waste of time (and money) for HR departments. Most often, retirement financial planning advice is given by suppliers external to HR departments, and many of these services are prepaid. So our HR departments might assume we need it, and pay for it, yet if we don’t need it? Well, that’s our precious benefits money wasted, and HR will be receiving a big bill for something we didn’t use.
Retirement, like so many other career transitions, is a highly individualised experience. And where some of us do need financial support; having spent years planning for what we’ll do once we’re finally ‘free,’ many of us require an entirely different set of services to help us navigate the change. But how do employers cater for this?
The problem and solution to whole-of-life retirement support
Where companies do offer retirement support, often it is limited to financial options not only because that’s what they feel they should offer, but because creating individual transition-to-retirement plans is simply too hard. After all, what one person wants from retirement could be so vastly different from what another wants – for example, some of us might want to study a course, whereas others might want to explore volunteering or simply take up a new form of exercise.
Yet, even when HR departments are given a small budget to help us with the transition, creating the right options for us, then finding and engaging relevant suppliers, and finally paying them (usually through a complex procurement process) can be a nightmare.
Treating retiring employees like the individuals they are
We’re all individuals – and so it’s natural to expect that our experience of retirement will be highly individual. If HR departments and companies alike want to help us make the most out of this transition and reward our years of hard work, it’s important that they go above and beyond and give us the choices we want and deserve.