When chatting with a group of third age women recently I was struck by how few had consciously planned how they would leave the workforce. Indeed, some were struggling to deal with the reality of being physically or emotionally unable to continue in their roles and adjusting to premature retirement.
One woman had the misfortune to literally fall flat on her face, or rather her chin, causing significant damage to her cervical vertebrae and making it impossible to work (severe loss of balance, pain, some memory loss, anxiety).
Another said that she just come to the end of her tether as a gift shop owner.
A third was a cheerful, ebullient early primary school teacher who clearly loved her job, until one day recently when she walked into school and was seriously upset by the actions of an administration staff member. At the principal’s suggestion, she took two weeks’ leave, and then decided never to go back.
Then there was a school counsellor’s story of extreme burnout following a decade of listening to a daily litany of human woes.
These stories begged the question: Accidental injury or illness is one thing but how had these intelligent women suddenly found themselves confronted with an unplanned retirement?
Brisbane career change consultant for over 50’s Jenni Proctor says this is not an uncommon scenario. She said she finds it disturbing in her work with mature aged clients that so many are completely unprepared for the retirement stage of their lives. Very few have taken the time to create a plan for retirement.
Some baby boomers it seems want the dream retirement but forget to plan for it. Jenni says she often hears sentiments such as “This is not the way my life was meant to be” or “I want to do something about my financial future but I am afraid I will lose money,” or “I really want to do something different. I know I have skills and abilities. I just have no idea what to do.”
Some baby boomer women, especially those in the helping professions such as teaching and counselling, could be particularly susceptible to this phenomenon. They work in emotionally demanding professions; they are generally imbued with the caregiver ethic which means they have often have significant family responsibilities (e.g. ageing parents, dependent adult children) and their professions do not allow enough time for self-reflection.
These conditions are perfect for burn out. The women know that but perhaps they don’t recognise the signs; perhaps they ignore them; perhaps they think they must continue working because of their financial obligations; perhaps they simply have not made time to assess where they are in their working life. And one day they wake up to the certain knowledge that they absolutely cannot continue.
Would it be too much to ask for workplaces especially in the caring professions to offer regular burn out assessments and support for their staff? The signs are usually not difficult to spot e.g. disinterest, lack of attention to detail, more sick leave than usual, lack of motivation.
And how about some opportunities to plan for retirement in a meaningful way? Discussions with a professional career counsellor (not just a financial planner) could help develop a clear picture of the unique lifestyle and activities to take you into an exciting third age. Perhaps another income stream will be required…a good counsellor can help with ideas there as well.
Are you female? A baby boomer? In the helping professions? How are YOU managing the transition to retirement?
About the author: