Researchers at Harvard Business School, Questrom School of Business, Bentley University and MIT Sloan School of Management recently interviewed 120 professionals to learn about the mental and emotional toll of retirement. They discovered that retirees go through two main processes: Life Restructuring and Identity Bridging.
One of the researchers, Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, spoke with Curt Nickisch of Harvard Business Review about the study. In discussing "life restructuring," Amabile says,"You have to majorly restructure your life that day you walk out, whether you’ve been working full-time up to that retirement or part-time, you’re going to have to really approach your life differently."
Amabile suggests that the interactions with people in the workplace are significant. When individuals retire, "most of us don’t realize how anchoring and important those work relationships are.
"We also don’t realize how important the structure of work is. We have been living for several decades as kind of a tenant of a life structure that our organization has created for us. We know where we’re going to be at 9:00 AM Monday through Friday and we pretty much know what we’re going to be doing and who we’re going to be interacting with."
Amabile identifies four developmental tasks as part of life restructuring:
- The retirement decision: Deciding when to retire and how to retire.
- Detaching from work: "Some can let go completely... and for others, they have a hard time moving on at least mentally, even if they’re not engaging in work activities, they’re thinking about it a lot and they feel that they’re still in that world."
- Managing the liminal phase: "Liminal means betwixt and between – kind of in the midst of change of some kind." Some people plan for this carefully while others don't.
- The consolidation stage: That's when a new life structure is in place and it is working for the individual.
The second process is identity bridging. Amabile observes that people who can maintain or enhance aspects of themselves that existed in pre-retirement can enjoy satisfaction and enrichment in retirement. She says, "Often it’s bridging some aspect of that work identity. Often it’s enhancing, developing some non-work aspect of identity that you had. So, one of the most common things we’ve seen is that people will have had an avocation that they enjoyed a pre-retirement, that they get really engaged in much more strongly after retirement.
"And that’s very fulfilling for them, very enjoyable. Sometimes it’s the relationship they had that was important to them – an important part of their identity – and they’re now deepening that engagement, spending more time with that person."
One of the challenges related to identity bridging is how integrated identity is with working for many people. According to Amabile," So much of our identity is almost necessarily wrapped up in our work. So much of our mind space is occupied by our work, that we let other pieces of ourselves atrophy."
Amabile notes that if people "can maintain some creative activity outside of work, even while they’re fully engaged in their career, that seems to stand them in good stead because that’s something they can grow afterward. That gives them a natural identity bridge."
If you are planning to retire -- or already retired -- maybe you are going through "life restructuring" and "identity bridging." If so, you are not alone.