Six things you should do before you quit working

Associate Professor Joanne Earl
21 October 2019
Faculty of Human Sciences


Retirement planning is not just about having enough money in the bank, it's also about taking the important social and health steps you need to be happy when you're older – before it’s too late.

All of my research for the past 10 years has been on retirement and retirement planning and adjustment. My research indicates that people who are strong across six different ‘buckets’ – wealth, health, social, cognition, emotion and motivation – will transition better to retirement.

Easy does it: Making decisions early about the retirement you want will affect finances, happiness, wellbeing and health.

My team and I are translating that research into action. We’re on the cusp of getting the tools out there for everybody to use. We’ve designed online interventions to improve people’s retirement planning success and are working with professional associations and National Seniors Australia.

Our goal is to get people to think about retirement planning even when they are 40 to 50 years old. If you start early, then you have time to make some big long-term decisions that will inevitably affect your finances, happiness, wellbeing and health.

The ABS’ Multipurpose Household Survey shows there are almost a million people in Australia over the age of 45 who don’t have a plan for retirement. That's about a million people who would potentially benefit from reflecting on how the future is going to work out for them and what tools they need to do something about it.

Motivation and cognition

Setting goals is important pre- and post-retirement. People facing burnout might consider redesigning their jobs or taking a break, even consider a career change. Mid-career is the perfect time to take stock and start thinking long-term about that next step.

Many people can get caught out unexpectedly and have to leave work earlier than anticipated. Almost a quarter of men have to retire prematurely due to ill health.

If they want to transition into management, set up their own business or explore an artistic endeavour like painting or playing an instrument, they might want to start planning now. Retraining and getting a degree or diploma could take several years to complete part-time. They’ll also need to develop new networks and business contacts to capitalise on in retirement.

Health and wealth

It’s important from a health perspective also to plan ahead, because many people can get caught out unexpectedly and have to leave work earlier than anticipated. Almost a quarter of men have to retire prematurely due to ill health.

New beginnings: Giving attention to health as well as wealth is one of the keys to exiting from work on your own terms.

Instead of focussing on how much money they’re putting into their super, and whether or not they get paid bonuses anymore, people should give equal attention to their health. If they do this then they are more likely to exit from work on their own terms and have the money to fund it. If they start now to tackle health issues, such as fitness, heart health and obesity, they’ll get big dividends later.

Looking between the two most recent Multipurpose Household Surveys, there were 177,500 people who reported themselves as retired and then in the next survey they were back out looking for work again. The two main reasons were they ran out of money and they were bored. So if people start planning now it could save them heartache later.

Social and emotional

Having the other baskets sorted out should usually diminish people’s anxiety about retirement and lead to positive emotional wellbeing. Also, being mindful of having a social structure in place through previous networks is a plus. Putting the effort into maintaining relationships with families and friends also builds their future support base.

I’m already working with National Seniors Australia and professional bodies of doctors and the financial services profession to quiz people about what they want out of retirement. Then they can access online training and seek out financial, career and psychological help to help get them there. We are hoping to get funding to expand these initiatives to reach more people as soon as possible.

Dr Joanne Earl is an Associate Professor in Macquarie's Department of Psychology.


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