Do I Want To Work In Retirement?
Now I’m getting to one of the most thorny issues in my series on retirement planning, do I want to continue to work? Since I started with my auto-immune illnesses over ten years ago work and health have always been inconsistent with each other. I’ve struggled endlessly to find that balance where I’m engaged and enjoying work but also have the time, energy, discipline and low stress levels that I need to look after my health. After all this time I think I’ve finally found that sweet spot. I now work for about a day a week, on average but I do some research and thinking about work for another day a week without any commitments. When I retire it’s going to be tough to find a job that provides me with anything like the same benefits: excellent money, working mostly with good friends, lots of flexibility, a focus on non-time critical activities. It would be perfect if the job wasn’t filled with global politics, mismanagement, frustration and moderate stress levels.
As I start to write this blog post I really have no idea how to answer the opening question, here goes my attempt to work it through. There are a few options that I need to consider:
- How long do I stay working in the job I have?
- Do I need to work in retirement?
- What characteristics would work need?
- What would my ideal work be?
- What are my realistic options?
- What would I do if I didn’t work?
How long do I stay working in the job I have?
Continuing my existing job is very seductive, I earn excellent money and live in semi retirement. It seems ideal but for the fact that I still have one or two flares a month and only get low pain days about 50% of the time. I know from experiments that I can do better than this, on a two week holiday I often get to a pain free state and when I get back to work those pain levels creep up again and with that pain comes more migraines, brain fog and other symptoms that erode my quality of life significantly. When I’m pain free I feel like I’m flying, I want that feeling every day! I’ve conducted many experiments to find the link and I’m now confident that the stress, frustration, worries and sitting associated with work are a significant long term contributor to my health challenges. Even working for 4 hours a day uses up a lot of my willpower store. Especially on days when I’m working and feeling rough, this lack of willpower means I move even less, eat worse, meditate less, reach for the pain killers earlier. These moderate negatives tip me from a virtuous cycle of improvement into a negative cycle of decline, that decline might be slight but every day I work it gets bigger until I flare and then it’s a long slow battle to get into a virtuous cycle again.
I’ve done a lot to address these negative cycles of decline with three day weekends and only working alternate weeks. These mean that I have plenty of opportunity to break the negative cycles although I’m finding recently that working for two weeks and then taking a two week break might work better.
At first sight then it seems that leaving work and retiring as soon as I can is the best option for me, it would give me the time, freedom from stress and frustration, energy and willpower that I need to restore my health. I don’t think it’s as simple as that though:
- I earn a good wage, every year I continue working adds considerably to my retirement pot. If I retire in 4 years assuming no stock market crash I should be able to live reasonably comfortably. Continuing working though might mean a holiday home, much better and more frequent holidays, keeping my own car, kitting out a nice workshop, a house on the seafront. Tempting stuff.
- My Asperger’s means that I struggle to make friends, but after working with the same people for many somehow quite a few of those work relationships have morphed into highly valued friendships. I’d probably struggle to replace them and keeping them without the regular contact at work would be hard for me although I’d like to try. Which means that leaving work might be quite socially isolating. Even if I found a new type of work building new friendships might take me a very long time.
- Although I’m reasonably confident that leaving work would improve my health, there’s a non zero chance that it wouldn’t. Even worse, what if my health declined significantly, leaving me unable to enjoy the walking and cycling that I plan to fill a lot of my retirement with. Maybe then having a well paying job to keep me busy would be a blessing. I’m grudgingly forced to admit that there’s is a significant chance that my condition might worsen beyond any ability for lifestyle modification to combat it.
- Although my ‘grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ brain imagines a life in retirement that’s better than my current work/job mix what happens during those long winter months, work might seem much more attractive then, than it does during this year’s wonderful summer!
- As part of my employment benefits I have an excellent health insurance scheme and a extended sick pay scheme that provide my with an excellent level of security. If my health declined to the point where I could no longer cope with my job I would be paid 75% of my existing pay and I would have private medical insurance too. If I leave work I have only my pensions (a lot less than 75%) and no medical insurance, only the NHS.
- The decision of course might be taken out of my hands, I might just be made redundant
One of the things that I love about writing is that it allows me to carefully work through all these considerations and I’ve got to the point where I think I’ve made a decision:
- I will continue working in my existing job until I’m made redundant
- UNLESS my ability to cope with my job declines and I need to stop working due to ill health and drop to 75% of my salary
- OR UNTIL my retirement pot grows enough to make life away from work significantly more tempting than life at work
- UNLESS my current working arrangements change or the environment at work deteriorates to the point where it’s making my health noticeably worse than it is now
Do I need to work in retirement?
After writing the section above the only scenario in which I will truly need to work is if I’m made redundant before I get my pension pot fully filled, or if the stock market crashes. Otherwise I don’t think I will need to work to live comfortably. There are a few scenarios though where continuing to work might be worthwhile:
- Work provides social contact and potentially new friends (volunteering and clubs also provide this opportunity)
- Work provides me with money for the luxuries in life that I might not be able to afford or justify buying otherwise. I want to live a simple life in retirement, but I do like spending on food and experiences. I can think of a few things that would enhance those experiences, for example I’d love a beach hut, possibly a mobile home, definitely an electric bike and maybe car. My guilty pleasure would be some Stressless Chairs to replace our ageing sofa and chairs.
Being able to find work though is not going to be easy. There’s not many employers who would relish taking on a chronically ill employee who only works an average of at best a couple of days a week.
What characteristics would work need?
I’d need a job that matched most of the characteristics of the job I do now, but maybe with more movement and less political stress and frustration, but basically a few hours a week, doing non-time critical work, that’s social and enjoyable and focuses on advice, and coaching.
What would my ideal work be?
Ideally I’d like to be retained as an advisor by my existing employer or one of our local partners, of which there are a couple. If I can’t do that and I don’t think it’s likely then I would like to write for myself and maybe make little money from people who like to follow along.
What are my realistic options?
Writing, provided that I learn how to do it over the next few years
What would I do if I didn’t work?
I’ve covered most of those ideas in my other posts in this series
The photo today is of one of the banners at the entrance to the St Annes kite festival. I watched the amazing kites from the dunes after an early morning writing this post in Caffe Nero and just before finishing it off at the Beach Terrace Cafe. This is what my writing life would be ideally like in retirement. Lovely cafes, lovely food, friendly staff and fellow cafe enthusiasts and lots of walking and cycling from place to place.