By Gail Lipsitz
Several weeks ago I told my boss that I wanted to retire in December. This decision was not made lightly. I’ve been in the workforce all of my adult life and enjoyed two very fulfilling careers, first in teaching and then, for the past 27 years, at Jewish Community Services. What would it be like not to go to work every day? There would be major changes in my life.
And yet…. There are so many things I still want to do, while I am able. So I’m looking forward to this new chapter with anticipation.
But first, there is this period between the time my retirement has been announced at work and the date of departure. A lot has been written about when is the right time to retire, financial planning, and what makes a fulfilling retirement. But how about the last weeks on the job?
The ideal scenario is when the choice to retire is your own, but even if it is not, this time can be a special opportunity to think about what really matters to you and to make a good transition. Here are some things I have been learning.
Co-workers will reach out and want to talk to you. Some may be surprised and want to know why you’re leaving. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Share what you are comfortable with. How much you say will depend on the particular relationship you’ve had with each individual. You might want to compose a sort of “elevator speech” for colleagues who mean well but are a little too intrusive. Consider their motives for asking; they may be thinking about retiring themselves and interested in learning from your example. “I’m jealous” or “I can’t wait until it’s my time” are common responses. Some colleagues will tell you how much they’ve enjoyed working with you and that they’ll miss you. Savor these conversations. They will also help you absorb the fact that you are really doing this!
Be discreet and positive. Avoid being drawn into negative conversations about any problems or personalities in the organization. Try to leave on good terms, not only because it feels better but also because — who knows — you may want or have to come out of retirement in the future, and you may need a recommendation from your former employer.
What if they want to make a party in your honor? Some employees are uncomfortable with others making a “fuss” over them and would rather leave quietly. But it’s important to allow your co-workers to say good-bye and share tributes and reminiscences. We need the opportunity to mark a passage like this, to tell someone what it has meant to work together, often for many years. A send-off also gives you the opportunity to reflect on your career and what you’ve contributed to the organization, and to feel proud of your accomplishments. Don’t be surprised if it gets a little emotional; partings can be bittersweet. If you’re asked to make a speech, keep it warm and brief (even though you do have a captive audience).
Accept that you are a “lame duck.” You may not be consulted about future plans or invited to some meetings. Now that you are leaving, it is natural that the organization needs to move on to fill your position or restructure. But you should still fulfill your responsibilities and maintain a professional attitude right up to the last day.
Take care of unfinished business. If you’ve had misunderstandings or conflicts with fellow employees, try to clear those up before you depart to avoid taking negative feelings with you. Just a few words in person or a note saying, “I know it hasn’t always been easy, but I want to wish you well,” will do. Also take a moment to express appreciation to individual fellow employees (“I’ve always wanted to tell you…”); it could mean a lot.
Ask for an exit interview with Human Resources if your employer doesn’t require one. This is an opportunity to find out what retirement benefits are available from your employer, and to clarify your standing upon leaving the organization, says Ilene Lewandowski, Human Resource Manager at JCS. If you’d like to stay connected, you can ask about the possibility of future contractual or consulting work, or about volunteer opportunities. The exit interview is “a chance to be heard,” says Lewandowski – to discuss your good experiences with the organization, or to point out a problem that could be addressed and to offer any suggestions for the benefit of the organization.
Try to leave things shipshape for your successor. Finish up projects. List important phone numbers and emails. Clean out your files, and make important documents and files easy to locate. Mark upcoming deadlines on a calendar.
Start making plans before you leave. Tell friends outside of work. Networking can be just as important in retiring as in searching for a job. Think about what you want to do next. Afraid you’ll miss working? Look for part-time employment or volunteer opportunities that will make you feel you are continuing to contribute meaningfully. Lots of organizations are going to ask you to get involved. Be careful not to over-commit right away. It’s OK to say you need some time to relax, get used to this new phase of life, and explore various options. Give yourself the gift of something specific to look forward to as soon as you retire, like lunch with friends, a morning walk or class to get yourself up and out, or a trip.
I have yet to meet a fellow Baby Boomer who expresses regrets about retiring. So look forward to this next stage of life. Whenever you embark on your journey, may it be exciting and fulfilling.
Gail Lipsitz retired from JCS in December 2013.