Is retirement a blessing or a curse?

Retirement might not be best for your health. The jubilation of leaving the office for the last time remains for some but fades quickly for others. Whether spending retirement on the golf course or with the grandkids, many retirees are surprised to discover a lingering sense of dissatisfaction – and even deteriorating health.

Why does retirement suit some better than others? In a distinguished professor presentation at the Warrington College of Business, Mo Wang, Associate Dean for Research and Strategic Initiatives, Lanzillotti-McKethan Eminent Scholar Chair, Chair for the Department of Management and Director of the Human Resource Research Center, revealed that the outcome of retirement, for better or worse, depends on a variety of factors.

“I’m a psychologist by training and also studied management, so I like to have a multi-level framework to think about why people want to work after retirement, what will predict people’s working activities when they get older,” Wang said. “The past 10 years of my work has been focusing on how to understand those factors.”

Using data from various sources, including the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Wang found that the factors influencing retirement outcome ranged from macro to micro levels:

  • Macro level factors include societal work values, industry-specific demands and needing healthcare benefits after retirement.
  • Meso level factors include job satisfaction, job conditions and family support.
  • Micro level factors include motivational orientation, economic stress and health.

How these factors have influenced a retiree will predict whether their retirement will have a positive or negative outcome. If a retiree was particularly stressed at their former job, then they will be more likely to enjoy retirement as a blessing. If they suffer financially or experience poor relational quality during the retirement transition, then they are more likely to experience retirement as a curse.

For many people, these factors are a bit difficult to manage. How then can workers plan to have the best retirement experience? Wang’s research indicates that bridge employment may be the solution.

“Retirement increasingly reflects diverse changes in a combination of work and non-work activities, rather than a complete exit from the workforce,” he said.

According to further data from the HRS, people who directly engage in full retirement will undergo small to medium physical and mental health deterioration over the first four years after retirement. Conversely, those who take on a “bridge job” after retiring from their career – picking up employment in the same or a different field – will undergo the least amount of health deterioration, sometimes even enjoying improved wellbeing.

Taking on bridge employment after leaving your career is a way to make retirement work for you. By maintaining some level of work activity, retirement can be a blessing, after all.

For further insights on retirement and bridge employment, watch the full lecture.

Read more about Wang and his achievements in our Newsroom.