Needed: Attitude adjustment for retirees

In case you missed our editorial in the February 13 edition of the Triangle Business Journal, I’ve published a copy below.

According to an estimate by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, there were over 2.4 million excess retirements due to Covid-19 as of August 2021.

By “excess,” they mean individuals who walked away from their careers sooner than planned. They constitute more than half of the 4.2 million who left the workforce since the pandemic began. As this trend continues in 2022, coupled with ongoing and anticipated “Boomer” retirements, this means many more individuals will experience the surprises that come with the roller-coaster emotional transition of leaving your work-life behind.

For many, the decision to pull the plug on their professional career is predicated on a single metric: finances. This isn’t surprising. Benefit offerings from major employers tout their 401(k) plans with matching percentages and tools to track progress. Those considering retirement will smartly check with their financial advisor and ask if they can afford to do so. Long-term investors in the 55-plus demographic have the additional good fortune of a market that has delivered positive returns during the pandemic, providing an additional incentive to walk away, with reasons that range from burnout to a recalibration of personal priorities. But there is far more to retirement planning than your 401(k).

Mental health is key to a successful retirement. Preparation for the emotional challenges that come with this life-changing transition is critical, but few companies offer structured guidance.

It seems you did everything right, but after the initial rush of activity – catching up on postponed projects, maybe an extended vacation break, reconnecting with family and friends – it becomes apparent that life has changed in ways you did not anticipate. Start with this: For 30-plus years, activities that occupied 40 to 60 hours of most weeks were determined by your work. That is a significant chunk of time to replace in your new life.

What else? If you have a partner and they are retired too, you are about to experience much more time together. If not, you are about to spend much more time alone. Your professional network shifts too, as relationships change when you are no longer a contributing member of the work team.

Other potential challenges await. The unfortunate reality is many retirees discover too late that their work had taken over their purpose in life, and they feel a bit lost. But there is good news: Retirement today has much to offer in terms of options, including the opportunity to discover your new purpose. You have plenty of choices, from part-time work doing something you truly enjoy, to volunteering with an organization whose mission you care about. Some even return to full-time employment in a completely different role. But like any successful transition, it requires planning.

Consider this: As of October 2021, 50.3 percent of those 55 and older are not participating in the labor force. Many of them represent a powerful “second act” resource for our communities if open-minded organizations recognize the potential opportunity.

The country’s newest retirees are a valuable asset, and can vastly improve the economic well-being of the country. Of course, they would need an attitude adjustment.

Steve Brechbiel, a former executive at Iqvia, is now a regional director for LifeWork, a nonprofit organization that works with individuals approaching retirement. He can be reached at