The following is an excerpt from Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy by Joe Casey
Studies show it’s possible for people to feel lonely even when they’re surrounded by other people. Loneliness is really about connection—or lack thereof. People often incorrectly believe it’s only an issue affecting older adults, when in fact:
- Loneliness is an emerging problem on college campuses.
- It affects about a third of the population globally.
- The UK has created a national strategy to address and combat loneliness in the UK.
- The Surgeon General of the United States declared it an epidemic.
Loneliness is a serious threat to health and well-being, one that’s greater than obesity. Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
The workplace is a highly social environment. There’s plenty of interaction, and you develop many connections with people at work. When you undergo a major life transition, like retirement, all of that is disrupted. You go from being immersed in an active social system to suddenly being outside of it. And as you get older, you spend more time alone.
It’s an adjustment. When you retire, your social ties change, leading to shifts in your emotional well-being. Losing the social structure work provides can be destabilizing emotionally. Those work relationships help provide a buffer against stress, and that buffer matters most in bad times. People who don’t have a broad network outside of work can quickly become lonely in retirement. Research shows that loneliness tends to be higher among men. And when people go through an involuntary retirement, that’s been found to be associated with a higher level of loneliness.
But it’s not all bad news. Retirement can have a positive effect on your overall social connectivity over time. You have more time to cultivate social relationships than you did when you were working full time.
While retirement disrupts some social relationships at first, research has shown that the size of a retiree’s social network stays about the same over time. Only the mix shifts significantly. Retirement shuffles the deck of your network and social interactions. The share allocated to family increases, and the share allocated to work colleagues and friends decreases. Men tend to reduce interactions with colleagues more. Women tend to cull their friends and spend less time with less meaningful relationships. As we get older, we become more selective about whom we spend time with. People have a sense time is more precious and don’t want to waste it. The percentage of time we spend with the family goes up, just like we saw in the pandemic.
JOE CASEY is an executive coach, Managing Partner of Retirement Wisdom, and host of The Retirement Wisdom Podcast, inspiring people to create meaningful lives in retirement. Before he designed his own second act career as a catalyst for positive change and growth, Casey worked for 26 years at Merrill Lynch as Senior Vice President, Head of HR for Global Markets and Investment Banking. He served in various senior leadership roles, including Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer for Global HR. Casey holds Master’s degrees from the University of Southern California, the University of Pennsylvania, and Middlesex University (UK) and a Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He earned his coaching certification from Columbia University and is a Certified Designing Your Life Coach—leveraging the program’s principles by helping people chart a new course after the world of full-time work.
By Joe Casey