Retirement: Pipe and Slippers

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Retirement: Pipe and Slippers

We would all be idle if we could. (Samuel Johnson, 1940)

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses it purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind (Leonardo Da Vinci, Notebooks, 1500)

There is a common belief about the traditional working life where people chose, or were forced to retire at 65 years. At this point they slowed down and spent most of their time in quiet amusements as their energy and health declined. It was often portrayed as a relatively happy time and a just reward for years of hard work.

The pull—push distinction is often made. For instance, there are various push factors before retirement (poor health, family health, disliked work, disliked boss, could not find work, not appreciated and employee policies) while the pull factors are: do other things, no need to work and spouse retired. Further, there are positive/pull factors after work (be your own boss, lack of pressure, wanted to relax, time with spouse, time with kids, pursue hobbies, volunteer work and travel). On the other hand, negative/push factors were boredom, not feeling useful, missing co-workers, illness/disability, not enough money and inflation.

There seem to be three broad themes/pathways that emerged from their studies with regards to attitudes to retirement: ’there is life beyond work’; ’work as a lifestyle’; and ’there is not much left to live for’ and that these pathways emerged long before people actually retired.




Illustrative Quotes


A lack of purpose, a fear of being forgotten or a threat to one’s identity.

’…you feel that this is a big void. You are on the border of a precipice here.’


A new beginning, a new chapter, or a ’blank canvas’ with endless possibilities to pursue one’s interests or passions.

’I’m looking forward to the next few years. And as I say, when I grow up, I’m going to be doing something equally important, no doubt.’


The ’cleansing’ experience of getting away from an unhealthy, stressful working life.

’It’s like playing chess all the time…You know there are only so many years, hours, days that you can do that, and then you go, “Oh, my God. I can’t do this anymore.”’


Being released from the constraints and restrictions of work; the experience of running towards a newfound freedom.

’And then I had always made you know, in my mind, 55 was kind of when the golden handcuffs came off me.’


Gaining time by shifting gears — a transition to slowing down and better pacing one’s life.

’I’m purposely trying to enjoy it more, relax a little, because I don’t relax that well. Slow down, if I can. Smell the roses.’

Staying the course

Continuation of engagement and contribution, using one’s professional skills in different settings.

’I’ll always have my hand probably in this business or some type of business.’


Reaching a pinnacle/achieving a goal: a marker of the end of one phase and beginning of another.

’Did that, done, got the T-shirt. Time to move on.’


A positive adaptation to a new role or new lifestyle; taking on a new identity.

’I’m happy to report that I have no feelings of guilt about being a kept man. It’s something I’ve aspired to all my life.’


Studies of those suffering loss and adjustment have noticed that people appear to pass through various phases or stages in their adjustment. Of course, the academics quibble about how many there are; what they are called; if everyone has to go through them sequentially; what makes one move on from one stage to the next.

But they do represent a way to monitor progress. They help observers predict what will happen to those they know are trying to cope. They can even encourage observers to help people onto the next stage:

Denial: It seems the ’It can’t happen to me’ response is universal. The grim reaper and the four riders of the apocalypse. Denial is primitive and widespread. You hear it all the time in recessions. ’We are OK. They can’t/won’t do it to us. It’s just a rumour.’

Anxiety: Denial is soon replaced by fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of being able to cope with less; fear of boredom; fear of re-inventing oneself. Anxiety is manifest in moodiness and sickness; in gossip and rumour.

Anger: Always a difficult emotion for the dying and the grieving; common and expected in divorce; well known in the workplace. It’s not difficult to find targets who become, as the psychoanalysts say, ’bad objects’. It’s easier to express in groups. It mobilizes people.

Sadness: And when the anger has dissipated and exhausted people, the black dog appears. It’s about looking back to that which has been lost and may never again happen. People go quiet, become introspective and become rather solitary.

Acceptance: Anxiety, anger and depression are an exhausting trilogy. But once the corner is turned, reality and realism kick in. Fait accompli; que sera sera; it is written. Better accept the fact, adjust to the situation.

Relief: For some, redundancy from tedious, high-demand and low-control jobs can be a relief. Jump off the treadmill, the grind, the remorselessness of the tyranny of the urgent and life can be rather fun. The ’package’ may not be too bad.

Interest: There are several alternatives on offer to the let-go worker. Find another (any other) job; do voluntary work; do retirement. The frenetic, worried job-seeker is often worse off, particularly in times of recession, but for the others life can be a lot more interesting. Old passions can be taken up again.

Adaptation: Crises afford opportunities as much as threats. Lay off does not mean life off. It can mean precisely the opposite. Some people adapt quickly and well.

Enjoyment: Many retired people say they find it difficult to imagine how they ever found time for work. Their days are full, structured, eventful and even fun. They can feel that being let go means they have been allowed to let go of the humdrum, the tedious and even the demeaning.


Dychtwald (2014) identified various types of what he called ’working retirees’:

Driven Achievers: The data suggest that these individuals have most likely always felt driven to achieve.

Caring Contributors: They are primarily motivated to work in retirement for the opportunity to give back to society, their communities and worthy causes.

Earnest Earners: This is the group that works not so much because they want to, but because they have to.


Dychtwald, K. (2014). Why work in retirement? The Four Types of Working Retirees. Age Waves Twitter.

Flynn, M. (2010). Who would delay retirement? Typologies of older workers. Personnel Review, 39, 308—24.

Hodkinson, H. (2010). Learning to work no longer: exploring ’retirement’. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22, 94—103.

Kloep, M. & Hendry, L.B. (2006). Pathways into retirement: Entry or exit?. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 79, 569—93.

Sargent, L., Bataille, C., Vough, H., & Lee, M. (2011). Metaphors for retirement: Unshackled from schedules. Journal of Vocational Psychology, 79, 315—24.