Dr Lynda Shaw 6

Businesses are making the gross mistake of assuming their employees near to retiring have a sell by date, according to cognitive psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.

Shaw explains: “Instead of being recognised as the most knowledgeable, experienced members of our society, our Baby Boomers are being treated like they are easily disposable and lack any real value because businesses are constantly on the lookout for the new, the youngest and the cheapest. Our more senior (in age and knowledge) colleagues in reality are likely to be more valuable and as up to date in what matters as their younger counterparts.”

“Not many businesses newly employ someone in the early 60s. There is a huge amount of ageism and prejudice in the UK business world with the constant talk of a need for “new young blood in the firm”. What’s wrong with 60 year old, experienced and knowledgeable blood to keep the heart of the business going? We are not past our sell by date at 60; with the huge growth in centurions reaching this milestone, many of us are just getting going!  If you love your work and are good at it – why retire?”

Shaw believes it will be even harder for future generations to retire because computers, SMART Technology and social media are so constant in our everyday lives, that our brains are even more on a state of alert than current retiring generations so it may be even harder for us to retire and actually enjoy it. We only have to look at how many people work on their laptops or are gaming on computers until bedtime to see why so many people are suffering from insomnia.  ‘Switching off’ is increasingly becoming harder, so retiring in the traditional sense could be a challenge.

Shaw believes the psychology of retiring is complex. “From the retirees point of view retirement is such an emotive word.  It sounds wonderful in principle if the retiree is choosing to retire rather than being forced out. Many of us retire with dignity and happiness and in the first year do all those things we haven’t had time to do. Many over–spend. It’s the second year when we may feel a little more unsettled and self-esteem and financial worries tend to be a problem. Those who can reinvent themselves by starting a new business, find a way to occupy their minds and stay fit, physically and mentally, are the ones who will really succeed at and enjoy retiring. Especially if they haven’t been pushed.”

Shaw argues men in particular struggle with retirement and feeling like they have a sell by date as their main identity is often based on their work, so losing their job can make them feel insecure.

“People underestimate the importance of work for our mental health and well-being. Being in work provides structure to the day, and a purpose in life. It helps one feel valued and useful. Our careers and day to day responsibilities support so much of what our identity is, and to not have that can often leave us feeling lost. We are by nature social animals.”

A 2013 report published by the Institute of Economic Affairs and Age Endeavour Fellowship states that retired people are 40% less likely to describe themselves as in very good or excellent health than working people of the same age. It also states that retirement increases the risk of depression by 40%, and that the chance of having at least one diagnosed physical condition increases by around 60%. 

Shaw points out that physical illness can be linked to mental health: “When we feel low or anxious, parts of our body can shut down and our immune system is weakened. As a result, we are more susceptible to illness. Those who have retired and who find themselves lonely or bored will often find that this has a knock on effect on their physical health. In my view our sell by date gets closer when we retire, not when we work!”