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‘Bridging’ jobs could make retirement happier, research finds

Employers should support older workers to ‘wind-down’ into retirement with bridging jobs or by reducing their working hours to avoid poor wellbeing, a new international study reveals.

The study, part of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing Evidence Programme, by the Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Essex, Reading and Sheffield looks at how the circumstances surrounding retirement - such as type of job, a gradual transition into retirement or family circumstances - influence life satisfaction.

However, the research highlights that this depends on whether employees had control over when they retired, rather than being forced out through ill health or restructuring. If people take up bridging jobs because of financial strain, their wellbeing drops.

The study also found that:

  • the way we retire matters for our mental health and wellbeing
  • leaving a more prestigious, satisfying job decreases your life satisfaction on retirement
  • men struggle more when they retire if their wives are still working*
  • predictably, retirees who are satisfied with their home lives and had support networks fare better.

Prof Sara Connolly, professor of personal economics in the Norwich Business School, and co-author of the study, said: “The research identifies the importance of planning – financially, psychologically and socially – for retirement, which ensures that retirement isn’t a sudden shock to the system.  

“It also emphasis the role that employers can play by offering bridge jobs which can help older workers prepare for retirement and means that their valuable skills and experience aren’t suddenly lost to their firms.”   

Mark Bryan, reader in economics at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, said: “The evidence on wellbeing points to the importance of giving people control over their retirement decision - both through support for people who wish to stay in work and decent pension provision for those who wish to retire.”

Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, said: “Good work is really important for our overall life satisfaction and how we retire matters. When we've gone around the UK asking what quality of life looks like, the importance of wellbeing at work consistently comes up.

“Policy needs to reflect the changing patterns and ways of working, and how that impacts how, why and when we retire. A sudden shift from employed to retired isn’t working.”

*Based on longitudinal study findings from the 1990s, which may have included cohabiting or same-sex partnerships, but did not make this explicitly clear.