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Coach Soch: The Agile 60s — Time for India Inc to prepare its people for retirement life too

Indians are living longer, healthier lives, and the Indian birth-rate is at a historic low. Each of us could live well into 20-25 years in formal retirement. But well, for the retirement age of 58-60 years is a mere number, as we find many agile and high energy 60s individuals, whose energies and focus can put many a youngsters to shame.

While being young is in vogue now, and India boasts of demographic dividend, it is equally important to think of challenges of age in society - something that India would witness in the next two decades. Retirement brings not only physical health into necessary thinking, but also mental health aspects need attention. So planning well for the second innings is crucial, something that India shies away from speaking. For WorkPlace India, the person who retires is forgotten after the farewell party, and is a mere statistic.

An Indic Perspective

Nothing in life or in nature is ever constant or permanent. Change is the law of life. Our Indic tradition hold the notion of the Trimūrti (trinity), in which the cosmic functions are portrayed with Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. One notion is that there is life and then death. Actually, Life includes both birth and death. Once you are born in the womb, and then born through childbirth, you continually grow, develop, become an adult until at some point you die. Alongside this your relationships with the other: caregivers, significant others, society, will change as well. So too your ideas and opinions will almost certainly change, and so too will you. Everyone grows older and everything changes. That is an inevitable process of life.

The Indian tradition enunciates the four ashramas: Brahmacharya (student life), Garhasthya (family householder life), Vanaprastha (retired life), and Sannyasa (life of renunciation). The first two being the first 45-50 years of life. It holds the notion that proper shram (duties and responsibilities) enjoin each stage. Across the ashrama, Intellectual strength, mental strength and physical strength and later inner/spiritual strength is focussed on. The third phase, vanprastha concurrent with the human body beginning to weaken. The younger generation step in to begin shouldering the responsibilities of the family and business. There is a gradual transition period from family duties to the last ashram of sannyasa, in which one is supposed to seriously work towards moksha. In this period, artha (wealth) and kama (pleasure) should begin to lessen.

Upcoming retirement

Erik Erikson, a psychologist, shares 8 stages of psychosocial development and explains the final two stages as being of Generativity versus Stagnation (occurring between 40-65 years) and Integrity versus Despair (Older adults from 65 to death). In stage 7, the elder needs to create or nurture things that will outlast him/her, often by creating a positive change that benefits other people.

Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world. They remain active in their home and community, while those who are unsuccessful feel unproductive and uninvolved in/with the world. In the final stage, people look back, either feeling a sense of fulfilment and of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.

With modern business enterprises, there is no assurance of ‘careers for a lifetime’ and one must now anticipate and accept that a formal-career may end, even when one goes past their late 40’s and 50’s. Apart from the formal retirement age limits, we are also witnessing continuous layoffs through creative ‘reorganisation’. The older employees struggle to manage personal obsolescence, or deal with continuous ambiguity even while managing the speed of change. They feel stressed, burned out after 30-plus years on the job. They watch as recruiting, training, and leadership development budgets, as well as promotion opportunities, overwhelmingly get directed at younger employees. More often than not, they are passed up for promotions, and not picked up for developmental initiatives.

Retirement is that dreaded word. When the time comes to retire, many try and defer it as much as possible. Even the tall corporate leaders - be it promoter-founders and professional-leaders have attempted to delay their ‘retirement’, many a times at the cost of next-gen leadership.

For upon retiring, there are fears of loss: routine, identity, purpose, power and relationship. No matter how much some may look forward to retirement, some new retirees even experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The truth is retiring from work is a major life change. Some losses may be missed (e.g., friendships in the workplace, various benefits and perks, and the ways in which work provided a centre point for a work/life structure). For those with highly skilled and management careers, the loss of their status can leave them feeling like nobodies. For those whose work experience was largely negative and/or mindless drudgery, retirement can actually come as a relief.

On retirement, people usually take their extant (still in existence, surviving) personalities, attitudes, and behaviours into retirement. An essential approach would be for the retiree to develop a life style and outlook that they would like to have in retirement before they make the transition. Retirement could be a source of tremendous renewal. It could include reconciliation and healing of old feuds, reconnecting with neglected friendships, expressing gratitude to mentors from the past, and tracing family histories are some examples of meaningful completions. Looking at the past for learnings is different from the avoidable living-in-the-past. Can’t WorkPlace India factor in costs of training its staff ‘how & what to retire’ and prepare its people for a life post-retirement?


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