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New Study Reveals Importance of Meaning in Life for Post-Retirement Decisions

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A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology sheds light on the critical role that meaning in life and social identity play in retirees’ post-retirement decisions. The study by Shona G. Smith and colleagues offers an existential viewpoint on how retirees navigate their lives after leaving the workforce, highlighting the significance of both the pursuit and presence of meaning in life.

The study addresses a gap in existing literature by focusing on the dual aspects of meaning in life – search and presence – and their impact on retirement decisions. Previous research has largely concentrated on the meaning of work, overlooking how broader existential concerns influence retirees’ choices. By integrating the existential framework of meaning and career decision-making, Smith et al. aim to understand better how retirees’ social identities as workers or retirees influence their engagement in activities such as bridge employment and volunteering.

The researchers employed an archival survey study with a time-lagged design over one year, involving 204 retirees. They measured participants’ search for and presence of meaning in life, as well as their identification with worker and retiree social identities. The study also assessed participants’ involvement in bridge employment and volunteering, providing a comprehensive view of how existential factors influence post-retirement behaviour.

The study revealed that retirees who are actively searching for meaning in life tend to identify more strongly with their worker social identity and less with their retiree social identity. This finding suggests that the search for meaning drives retirees to maintain continuity with their pre-retirement roles and identities. Conversely, the presence of meaning in life did not show a significant relationship with either social identity, indicating that those who already feel their lives are meaningful might not experience the same identity shifts.

One of the most notable findings is the distinct influence of social identities on post-retirement activities. Retirees with a strong worker identity are more likely to engage in bridge employment, continuing to work in some capacity post-retirement. On the other hand, those who identify strongly as retirees are more inclined towards volunteering, seeking ways to contribute to society outside of formal employment.

The study’s findings have several important implications. Theoretically, they expand the understanding of retirement decisions by highlighting the dynamic interplay between search for meaning, presence of meaning, and social identity. Practically, the results suggest that career counsellors and human resource managers should consider these existential dimensions when supporting retirees. For instance, counsellors could help retirees searching for meaning explore bridge employment opportunities that align with their worker identity. Similarly, HR managers could develop age-specific exit strategies that include both bridge employment and volunteering opportunities, catering to different social identities among retiring employees.

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