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Why retirement isn’t always easy — and how volunteering can help

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Volunteering at any age can be incredibly fulfilling as it comes with a great sense of giving something back. Photo: Getty

Retiring from working life is a dream come true for many people. Gone are the days of commuting on busy public transport, stressing over deadlines, and dealing with office politics. Instead, you can get up when you want, dedicate more time to hobbies, and spend more time on yourself.

For some, though, stopping working isn’t always easy. Firstly, you have to transition into a new routine after leaving behind the nine-to-five grind. You may also miss your job, co-workers, and the feeling of being busy and engaged.

“Whilst retirement is often seen as a wonderful reward for decades of hard work, in reality many find a 'cold turkey' retirement an unexpectedly tough adjustment,” says Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, a job, volunteering, and advice site for the over 50s.

Even the change in dynamic at home can be a challenge to adjust to — particularly if you’re spending more time with family.

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“Going from five days of work a week for four decades to zero days at work, literally overnight, might seem like a dream whilst you are in the thick of your nine-to-five, but the reality can be very different. After the initial novelty of not having to go to work has worn off, retirement can sometimes start to feel lonely and leave people at a loss without a sense of purpose.”

There are several ways to make the transition into retirement smooth. You could always continue to work part-time, or throw yourself into new hobbies and interests. It’s worth researching companies that are age diverse and open to employing part-time retirees who want to continue working. It’s also never too late to learn something new or boost your skill set too — there are plenty of training courses that allow you to learn on your own terms.

Another popular option is volunteering. “In 2019 we conducted a YouGov survey amongst a UK representative sample to ask people if they intended to volunteer after they reached their state pension age,” Lewis says. “Over one in four people said they planned to (27%) with this number rising to nearly one in three (30%) amongst the over 55s. In addition, nearly a third (31%) said they didn’t know if they would or wouldn’t.”

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Volunteering at any age can be incredibly fulfilling as it comes with a great sense of giving something back. For retirees who are passionate about a cause, whether that be fighting cancer or protecting the environment, volunteering to support something you believe in can provide focus and a sense of purpose.

“There are proven health and social benefits of staying active beyond your state pension age — whether in a paid or voluntary capacity,” says Lewis. “I’ve always been fascinated that from clinical conditions such as dementia, to social challenges such as loneliness and isolation — the prescription is mostly the same.

“Stay active, stay mentally active, eat well, and stay socially connected. Volunteering can help with three of these four aspects and with growing awareness of mental health across society, this perhaps helps to explain the interest in volunteering after retirement.”

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If you’re interested in volunteering, there are many different ways to get involved. There’s the old fashioned-approach of looking in newsagent windows or asking at your local library. Local Facebook groups can be a good source of information if you know what you’re looking for — people tend to be friendly and helpful and will point you in the right direction of local charities or organisations who could do with an extra pair of hands.

“The challenge for most people is not knowing where to start, or what type of cause or opportunity they would be interested in supporting,” Lewis says.

“For many in this situation, websites like Rest Less with its dedicated volunteering page can help you navigate your options by helping you explore whether you might be interested in working with children, animals or the elderly — or whether you would rather support in a charity shop, or as a patient or animal driver for example. It can be a great starting point to inspire you with something that you haven't even thought of yet.”