You have invested a significant amount of time building your career with your employer and received positive feedback on a regular basis, created a reputation to be proud of and have been promoted, recognized, as well as provided learning opportunities designed to accelerate your professional growth. You feel good about yourself. You feel good about your employer and it work is really fun.
Then, gradually, you notice changes in the way you seem to be perceived in the workplace and your attitude begins to shift. Often this occurs when entering the final phase of a career – what I like to call the Career Downshift. This often occurs when entering into the years leading to your retirement. Sometimes this lasts 5 years, sometimes longer. Regardless, many begin to sense dissatisfaction about the same aspects of a career they once loved. You are no longer excited about the work projects you once enjoyed. Or you may find yourself working for a new boss who has less experience and knowledge than you. In addition, your working colleagues with whom you have developed friendships are retiring ahead of you. If this sounds like you, you are not alone.
What is actually occurring is you are responding to the sense that your company is just not as into you as they once were. And you are not as into your company or maybe even your career. How do you know for sure that this is the case? Here are three possible clues:
1) Your work colleagues are changing. Yes, the younger generations are entering the workforce with energy and commitment to achieve great things. You are noticing that many of your new colleagues are being given the same opportunities once afforded to you. Meanwhile, your work friends are leaving not only the company, they are also leaving you, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation.
2) Not only are you not getting as many opportunities as you did previously, you find yourself less excited about the actual work you are doing. You may be receiving compliments throughout the year and your efforts may be equally strong. Yet, it seems that no matter how hard you try or how good the results, your efforts appear to be less appreciated as reflected by less positive performance reviews and ultimately smaller pay increases.
3) Your requests for continuing education such as attending professional conferences and seminars are challenged and at times denied. Or maybe you did not receive acknowledgement for a voluntary process or workplace improvement project in which you dedicated your personal time.
This could be very discouraging, especially if you need to invest more in your 401K or savings plans to retire. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a pension plan at your company, you may need to hang on for a few more years to be eligible to begin withdrawing from it. Some in this situation become tempted to “retire in place” or go through the motions just to get through the workday. If this sounds like you, my advice is to resist this temptation. Employers know. They can tell when an employee’s engagement drops off and the clues mentioned above become more apparent.
If you are discouraged and feel like you are just holding on until you can retire, here are some ways to avoid the retirement in place syndrome:
1) Get to know your new work colleagues and offer to mentor them. Getting to know and understand the generation entering the workforce may broaden your perspectives about work. Also, you can be the person they look up to and seek out not only for your technical or process expertise. They also need your help to understand their new employer. And, in the process of mentoring them, you may learn a few new things as well such as the latest communication applications and techniques. Sharing ideas with each other will benefit them, you and your employer.
2) Laugh! Look for what is amusing during your workday. Laughter at work will improve your morale as well as the morale of those around you. Besides, it’s difficult to stay angry or annoyed when you are laughing. Here’s an example from my own experience. I had to give a manager I was working with an answer he did not want to receive. He persistently pushed back, and I tried multiple ways of communicating with him, each time expressing understanding for his position. It did not matter what I said, or how I said it, this manager was not going to walk away accepting any explanation I provided. My colleague who was in the room with me noted that there was nothing I could have said to change the outcome short of doing an interpretive dance. With that we both laughed and laughed. The interpretive dance analogy ended up being our own private joke we used frequently which helped lift the stress and frustration in difficult situations.
3) Begin planning for your retirement lifestyle before you retire. Develop an interest in something that is meaningful for you. Perhaps this is supporting a charity that is near and dear to your heart. This might be a good time to begin learning a new language or skill. Or if your physical wellness needs attention, how about joining a gym or beginning an exercise routine? This may mean working 40 hours per week instead of 50 or 60 and, that’s okay. Now is the time to begin prioritizing your own needs. And this can be done without placing your employer’s needs at risk.
Therefore, if you feel your company is no longer into you and you don’t feel like you enjoy your career, there are ways to experience challenge and fun. It is okay to place yourself first. You may already be financially planning for your retirement. And, it is not too early to consider what the next stage of your life will look like on a daily/monthly/annual basis. If you need help in figuring out what interests to pursue, consider hiring a certified retirement coach, someone trained to help with this aspect of retirement planning. Soon it will be time for you to go from retired to ReLaunched!