PIASC Blog

October 23, 2019

Retirement: the good, the bad, and the ugly

By Piasc
Retirement: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Hardly a day goes by without a phone call from someone looking to sell their printing business and retire.  The word “retirement” invokes images of golf, tennis, and travel.  The truth is, the quality of your retirement will depend on how prepared you are both financially and emotionally and not necessarily in that order.

While most people have given some thought to their financial well being in retirement, few have thought about the psychological impact.  The emotional challenges faced by many retirees, especially individuals in powerful, decision-making positions like business owners should be well thought.

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When people call and start talking about exiting their business and retiring, I immediately think of my parents, my mom and dad in particular.  Dad retired at 55 to “manage his investments and play golf.” Within a year, we noticed that the former national partner in an international public accounting firm was slow to respond to questions. He was missing the “action” that included communicating with his staff, colleagues, and clients. Mom was ready to kill him as she refused to be his secretary! Unfortunately, Dad’s health turned south and he passed at the young age of 62. On the other hand, Mom loved to play golf.  Her dream was to build her home right on a golf course.  Soon after Dad’s retirement, she was able to fulfill that dream.  Unfortunately, within a few years, she back problems forced her to give up her golf career.

Mom has passed but I remember her waking up every day, seeing the fairway from her home office and longing to play. As I look back, her happiest moments were when we conned her into working as a “volunteer” admin staff at a local retirement residence where she had daily contact with people. Thinking about it now, she found purpose.

What Makes for a Quality Retirement?

To get a current perspective on retirement, I spoke with a recent retiree, Don Burdge.  As President of BurdgeCooper, Don was responsible for over 150 employees.  He was also one of PIASC’s most active members.  During his career, he served as both on the Board of Directors of PIASC including Chairman.  In 2012, he was named PIASC Executive of the Year.

In 2014 Don sold his engraving business, and by April 1, 2016, he was fully retired. He then did what most people do when they embarked on a life of retirement.  He traveled.

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During a recent conversation with Don, I learned that for the first couple of years, he and his wife went to National Parks and traveled up and down California.  He said they had a great time “just kinda playing around.”  After doing this for a while, his wife provided Don with a life lesson.  She was very clever in the way she did this.

Don’s wife said she wanted to see a taping of the TV show Jeopardy.  He agreed and thought that it would be a nice thing to do.  According to Don, “We caught a bus to go the show.  As I walked down the aisle to get to our seats in the back of the bus, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the other people on the bus were older.  These people had oxygen masks, canes, and walkers.  When we sat down, I asked my wife, what is this?  What did you do?”  It was then that Don’s wife turned to him and said, “If you don’t get a job, these are the people we’re going to hang out with for the rest of our lives!”

“I realized that I didn’t want to live like that,” said Don.  The next day he called Vistage, an executive coaching organization, and told them he wanted to be a coach.  Don had been a member of Vistage while the owner of BurdgeCooper.  Now that he’s retired, he’s both a coach and a Vistage Chair, where he serves as a mentor to CEOs and business owners.

Don’s move was a good one.  In fact, it may have saved his life.

The Dangers of Retirement

Studies in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States have found that retirees, especially males, experience high levels of satisfaction directly after retirement, but that satisfaction falls sharply within a few years.

The UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) says that many retirees experience some serious mental issues.

  • Retirement decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by about 40%.
  • Retirement increases the chance of suffering from clinical depression by about 40%.
  • Retirement increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60%
  • Retirement increases the likelihood of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60%
  • Clinical depression can lead to even worse situations

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the highest increase in suicide is in men 50 and over, while suicide rates for men are highest among those 75 and older.  Men 80 and older are the group with the highest suicide rates in Canada, according to research from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

There are some activities that can help stave off depression, as well as dementia and hypertension, which, by the way, are all health problems related to early retirement.

Working or volunteering can help reduce these problems.  Stein Olavsrud, a certified financial planner with FBB Capital Partners, says, “You have to be cautious that you’re still getting out, meeting people and being social.  People who are not active tend to decline rather quickly.”

Getting out and being social is exactly what Don has done through his newest project.  The podcast, My Company Story available on YouTube and Apple Podcasts, is Don’s latest endeavor.  In his podcast, Don talks with owners and CEOs about their struggles and their philosophy about running a business.  Many people view the boss as the “fat-cat.”  One goal of Don’s podcast is to humanize the boss so they’ll be seen as a real person.

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While being active may help stave off depression, according to Psychologist Jacquelyn B. James, Ph.D. of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, only those people who are genuinely engaged in their post-retirement activities reap the psychological benefits.  So, if you’re only being active so you won’t be depressed, that won’t help.  Your heart has to be into it.  The activity you engage in must be genuine and fulfilling.

Don’s post-retirement activities are truly genuine.  An example of this is evident in his work as a Vistage Chair.  Don worked with one CEO that was head of an Inc. 5000 company two years in a row.  The executive attributes his success to the work they did in the Vistage coaching group.  According to Don, “Being a part of this is very rewarding.”

The Effect of Retirement on Marriage

In addition to clinical depression, retirement can also hurt a marriage.  According to the Pew Research Center, so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise.  Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s.

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One reason for this increase is that before retirement, most couples are rarely home during the week.  This leaves only evenings, weekends, and holidays to spend time together.  After retirement, couples are forced to spend all their time together.  It’s then that many couples realize that they no longer really know one another. They struggle to find common interests that, at one time, might have been their children who are now departed for their own lives and careers.

Fortunately, Don and his wife have a great relationship.  This is due, in part, to the fact that they each have their interests and activities.  Don says his wife married him “for better or worse but not for lunch.” Thus, while Don is working with CEOs, his wife is volunteering with local organizations like the Assistance League.  They also spend time together and with family and friends, like during a recent trip to Colorado.  By keeping their lives balanced, their retirement is enjoyable and fulfilling.

Don may no longer be the CEO of an engraving company, but he sure is busy.  He says, “I don’t know if I’m retired or not, but do know I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”

Consider Your Options

This may seem like a strange topic for a blog but I truly enjoy helping business owners consider alternatives to “move on.” While many of these conversations deal with “How can I exit my business?” there’s always the question of what are you going to do next. I often ask if they have considered eliminating their manufacturing activities and converting their business into a brokerage concern where they continue to interact with their customers and develop close relationships with other printers.

In all of these discussions, there is always the personal fear of “What the hell am I going to do in retirement?” Having no answer, the response is to keep working …. a cop that I am forced to admit!

So, we all have our fantasy of what retirement will bring.  We can learn a lot from Don’s experience and the available research on retirement.  The truth is, without planning for both our emotional and financial future, our reality may be something far different than our fantasy. In my opinion, we all need to find purpose in life whether in our business career or in retirement. What will that purpose be?

About the Author

PIASC is the largest graphic arts trade association in the country. They are devoted in helping members succeed. For over 80 years, they have been servicing businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Ventura and Clark counties.

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