Tips on Retiring During the Pandemic

This spring, as the coronavirus tightened its grip on Britain, my mother began preparing for the end of her four-decade career at the National Health Service. But she didn’t get the goodbye she had expected.

In mid-March, on the day she had planned farewell drinks at a bar in London’s Soho, she and colleagues were told that they should work from home. The cocktails were put on indefinite hold, and Mum never went back to the office. Three months later, she’s now officially retired, but she hasn’t turned in her laptop or badge, and she has no closure. “There’s a sense of unfinished business,” she says.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel adrift and lonely when they leave the workplace. Making such a huge life change during the pandemic can amplify those sentiments, says Sam Mauger, chief executive officer of the U.K. branch of University of the Third Age, a global organization commonly known as U3A that provides learning opportunities and communities for retirees.

“If you retire in non-Covid times, you do have the ability to go out to try things, like joining a sports club, or going down to the library, or meeting friends for coffee,” says Mauger. “During lockdown, all of those potential structures have been taken away.’’

Though it may feel that the best opportunities have evaporated in the pandemic, they’re still there, says Mauger. You just have to look harder. Here are his tips on how to have a successful retirement now:

Volunteer: Seeking out like-minded people through groups such as U3A, Soroptimist International (a global network of female volunteers), or the Transition Movement (which works to improve local communities) can be a lifeline. Many activities at U3A have moved to the web—from language lessons to tap dancing to photography—to provide people with a sense of community and an anchor in the day.

Network: If you’re coming up blank online, ask friends and neighbors what they’re doing. Be open about feeling adrift and needing help, and stay in touch with people from your old job so you still feel connected or even develop an informal mentoring relationship. You might hear about new opportunities—and sometimes, it’s simply nice to catch up on the latest gossip.

Pick up the phone: Look for a telephone exchange where you can chat with people in a similar position. This can sometimes be better than talking to family, who may worry if you’re feeling low and want to let off steam. In the U.K., Silverline is a free, confidential helpline offering information, friendship, and advice to older people. In the U.S., there’s the Mon Ami phone bank.

Get planning: Retiring is the biggest life change most people make, yet few plan for it properly. With a deep global recession, older workers risk being forced into retirement sooner than expected, making planning—both emotionally and financially—more important than ever, says Christopher Brooks, senior policy manager at AgeUK, a charity for older people. If you haven’t yet retired but think you might soon, start thinking about budgets and building up social networks outside work, and talk to your spouse and family about how you might spend your free time.

“It is a good time to be planning now,” Brooks says. “People are worried they might lose their job, or are thinking about just retiring because there are cutbacks in their workplace, so they think it might be a good time to step back, anyway.”

Three months after retiring, my mother seems busier than me: yoga, Pilates, and quilting classes via Zoom, morning coffee with neighbors—at a safe social distance—and researching volunteer opportunities. She was briefly considered for a post as an NHS telephone contact tracer to help control the virus, but the agency took that off the table as the outbreak slowed. This hasn’t stopped Mum from keeping an optimistic outlook. “The positive thing is that I was already geared up to go out and find things to do,” she says. “I’ve had to modify my plans, but I have found opportunities.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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