Retirement from work is a process and it is useful to know the stages – Bulletin Quotidien


Q I am a 67 year old divorced woman and lost my job due to the pandemic. Being eligible for retirement and having no family nearby, I thought it was a good time to leave Iowa for a sunny senior community. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about what retirement would actually be like. Now I am lost. Clubs, pickleball and other pursuits just aren’t for me after 35 years in management. Is retirement a process and how to access a more fulfilling life? KM

Thank you for your important and timely question. With the pandemic, more people have retired due to vulnerability to COVID-19, job loss, their own health issues as well as rethinking what is important in their lives. These are some of the reasons why more than 3 million Americans have taken early retirement.

You asked if retirement was a process. The late sociologist Robert Atchley reportedly answered with a resounding “yes”. He viewed retirement as a process consisting of several phases involving a series of adjustments. Not everyone goes through the phases in order and the phases are not related to their chronological age. Although Atchley’s work dates back to the mid-1970s, the model is still relevant today with some additional interpretations.

Here is Atchley’s phases:

Phase 1: Early retirement. This is a time when people are thinking about retirement, planning and considering the possibility of quitting their job.

Phase 2: The Retreat Event and Exit. Employers could host an event to honor the soon-to-be-retiring employee and could even give them a gift. During the pandemic, that was unlikely to happen. This also does not happen for everyone. What usually follows the event is the actual exit from one’s main job.

Stage 3: The Honeymoon. Work is gone and retirement is experienced as a new period of carefree living, being able to do what you want to do, when you want, without alarm clocks, schedules or commutes. This is a time when many see their retirement as an opportunity to play, travel, visit family and friends, take vacations and engage in leisure activities. It is a time to see and experience the world. Some who have too many hours say, “I’m so busy, I don’t know how I managed to find the time to work.” The honeymoon phase can last a few months, years, or even the entire retirement period.

Stage 4: Disenchantment. For some, it’s a time of disappointment, uncertainty, and even sadness when retirement doesn’t meet their expectations, especially if those expectations were optimistic. Atchley found two predictors of such frustration and discontent: poor health and lack of finances. If we did a study of predictors today, we would likely find additional predictors such as lack of sense of purpose, feeling worthless, and having no role or identity.

Phase 5: Reorientation. After the honeymoon and some disappointment, retirees often ask, “Now what? How do I want to spend the rest of my life? Retirees consider whether or not to make some changes, reorganize priorities and begin to take stock of their retirement experience. They reassess their situation more realistically and may see their endless vacation as a not as satisfying as they thought it would be.

Phase 6: A period of stability. It is a time of consistency and clarity of priorities and what is important. Retired adjusting to retirement with some routine in their way of life and can cope with and adapt to the usual changes that can accompany longevity.

One of the major points made by Atchley is that retirement is a dynamic period of life. For example, you can retire and spend the rest of your life in the honeymoon phase. One can also retire and go straight to disenchantment, go on the honeymoon, and then reorient with a final movement towards stability.

The notion of retirement as a dynamic time of change may not sound like advanced thought. However, we are reminded that it is relatively recent that older people have been recognized as capable of growing, of adapting, of changing, of continuing to learn, of starting new businesses, of starting a new career, of give back to society in a meaningful way and demonstrate resilience.

Retirement is a time of change that occurs throughout life with phases, adjustments and opportunities. It’s a new stage in life that can be equal or even more rewarding than your job or career.

KM Thanks again for your important question. Next week, we’ll discuss some highlights in the creation of its next chapter.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging, employment, and new retirement issues with academic, corporate, and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her at


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