Few of us prepare for life after work but third sector support is out there
For those who have worked most of their adult lives, retirement doesn’t come too soon. In Scotland around 75,000 people reach retirement age each year, the majority of whom decide to put their feet up and spend their days pursuing more leisurely activities.
However, unlike other life changes, few people think ahead to retirement and plan how to spend all their newfound free time.
As a result retirement can be a source of anxiety for many who are unprepared for a relatively sedentary life where they are no longer in daily contact with colleagues – a life that is no longer routinely structured.
The Scottish Pre-Retirement Council (SPRC) was set up to support Glaswegians who had worked all their lives in heavy industry, such as shipbuilding, but had limited lives after retirement. It has been helping retired men and women adjust to retired life since 1958.
It has now been taken over by one the country’s biggest charities for older people, Age Scotland, and plans to expand its training courses to address greater need as growing numbers retire each year.
“Retirement is a period of life that people should look forward to as their own time to do what they want,” says Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland.
“However it is important to prepare for retirement if you want to get the most out of it and the adjustment from working life can be quite a shock for some people.”
Research shows one fifth of men and around two-fifths of women have no private pension entitlement when they retire, meaning many are limited in their lifestyles by the time they reach the age to stop work.
“Ensuring people are prepared makes sense not only for the individual so they can enjoy their years after work, but also for wider society as people will then be less likely to need support in their later years,” said Sloan.
SPRC courses offer practical assistance. However they also signpost people on to other services including volunteering opportunities and health-related activities.
For Shona Barclay, a retired community nurse, who came to the SPRC five years ago shortly after taking retirement, the courses were eye-opening.
“It wasn’t so much about how to budget or manage my time; it was more to do with meeting people in a similar situation as myself,” she said.
“I was anxious about retirement. My job put me in daily contact with lots of people and I was slightly worried as to how I’d fill my time when I stopped work.
“That was over five years ago and I can say I’m filling my time well. Paradoxically, you have to work at retirement. You have to make the effort.
“Work is structured but retirement isn’t so you need to become proactive whether that is through a hobby, volunteering or keeping fit.”
For people who are not so equipped to cope, such training can be a lifeline.
Ken Nicholson, a retired IT specialist, now volunteers for the SPRC as well as for Action on Hearing Loss. He gives talks on the benefits of volunteering and the importance of keeping active not just physically but mentally too.
“When I retired from the shipyards some of my colleagues didn’t expect to live much longer than another five years,” he said. “All they had planned for retirement was the bookies and the pub.
“Now I’m telling people they realistically have 20 years of activity ahead of them – in a short period of time attitudes have changed immensely.”
Nicholson, who is now 73, has been retired for nearly 20 years. He believes giving up work was the best move he ever made. But that’s only because he has a structure to his life.
“We don’t treat retirement properly,” he said. “We get to 65 and suddenly, abruptly, we give up work totally.
“We need to treat the end of work more seriously. Volunteering is a good way to make that transition. It gives you a structure to your days and you can still treat it like work. And you get immense personal satisfaction.”
Confessions of a recovering workaholic
Peter Gauge was a self-confessed workaholic. Since working for a grocers at the age of 13, he was fully immersed in work throughout his career.
However he only recognised his work was a problem when he got divorced age 40.
“I had only been married two years but it didn’t last,” he said. “Work came first. I ran my own business selling shop interiors and never turned off from work even when I went home. It was constant – seven days a week.”
Even after divorce, and the beginning of a new relationship, Gauge still didn’t address the issue. “I kept on regardless,” he said. “That relationship lasted five years and I knew why it ended. But I still wouldn’t face the facts.”
It was only after his health began to fail – he developed an irregular heartbeat aged 52 – that his doctor referred him to psychological help.
Counsellors made the direct correlation between his health and workload and got him to detail accurately how many hours he was spending each day at work or dealing with work issues.
The results shocked him.
“I realised my whole life was dedicated to work,” he said. “I took two holidays a year but even then I was on the phone or dealing with enquiries. I wouldn’t admit it but my life was just work. And it was affecting everything else.”
It was the first time Gauge had considered he was a workaholic – addicted to work for the sake of it – and that became the catalyst for change.
He got in touch with Recovering Workaholics, a charity which supports people whose work has become all-consuming and now volunteers to help others.
“I’ve actually turned my back on work,” he said. “Because I was so extreme I burned myself out by 50. I didn’t have a choice – it was either work or my health. I chose the latter.”
Gauge says hundreds of others like him are risking their lives – and relationships – because they don’t manage work effectively. And when it comes to retirement they can’t cope.
“If you’ve worked all your life retirement can be a strain,” he said. “For many it’s a very anxious time because they are at such a loss.
“You need to wean yourself off work – that should actually happen when you are still working. Retirement shouldn’t actually be such a sudden event.
“It should be a gradual buildup where you replace working hours with leisure activities, hobbies and the like, to ensure you are not facing a sudden cut-off.”