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Phased retirement better for wellbeing

Poor retirement wellbeing was found to be associated with a lack of control over the retirement decision

Employers should support older workers into retirement by offering ‘bridging’ jobs and phased retirement to improve their wellbeing, according to a report from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

The research, which was conducted by the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Reading and Sheffield, reviewed 99 studies to draw conclusions about wellbeing and mental health in retirement.

Poor wellbeing among retired people was found to be associated with a lack of control over the retirement decision, especially when linked to poor health or limited employment prospects. However, wellbeing was higher for those who had control over the timing or plan for their retirement.

Those who managed to wind down into retirement gradually also tended to have better outcomes. One such method of slow transitioning is ‘bridging jobs’, which can be any job the individual might have after being retired from their main career. These can be paid or unpaid, and help enable a smooth transition into full retirement.

The evidence suggests that ‘good’ bridge jobs relate to hobbies or interests and ‘bad’ bridge jobs might be taken up through financial necessity.

Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, said employers should consider the impact of retirement on their older employees. “Good work is really important for our overall life satisfaction, and how we retire matters,” she said. “When we've gone around the UK asking what quality of life looks like the importance of wellbeing at work consistently comes up.

“Policy needs to reflect the changing patterns and ways of working, and how that impacts how, why and when we retire. A sudden shift from employed to retired isn’t working.”

Mark Bryan, a reader in economics at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, said people should have more control over the terms of their retirement. “The evidence on wellbeing points to the importance of giving individuals control over their retirement decision – both through support for people who wish to stay in work and decent pension provision for those who wish to retire,” he said.