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Learn To Enjoy Farewell Party

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am 62-year-old female executive who has worked for the same large company for 15 years.  I soon will retire.  Having attended many recent retirement parties, I am dreading my own. The parties are too long with too many accolades.  I would prefer to go “quietly into the night” and avoid the scene.  My colleagues disagree with me.  What are your thoughts?      

Answer: Let’s begin by discussing the purpose of a retirement party.  It serves as a public statement that you are leaving.

It is a time when others have the opportunity to acknowledge your contributions, often with tributes.  It’s a time for colleagues to thank you and say good bye.  It’s a time for co-workers to demonstrate their creativity and sense of humor by “roasting” you for a good laugh. It is a time for celebrating your earned right to retire with benefits.

It puts an end to one chapter in your life and allows the next chapter to begin. Let’s examine each one of these and the consequences of not having a party.

With no party, your employer may send out an impersonal e-mail indicating you are retiring.  That communication style may not fit with your long-term professional relationships in the company.

With no party or announcement, some people will not know that you have left until they try to reach you.  With the buzz of “I didn’t’ even know she was gone,” colleagues may wonder, “Why the quiet exit?”

Avoiding a party deprives your co-workers of the chance to say nice things about you thank you for your accomplishments and contributions. Above all, it deprives them of the opportunity to say goodbye. And that opportunity is unlikely to occur again.

Avoiding a retirement party deprives co-workers of having a good time “roasting” you.

A retirement party is a celebration that you have achieved the right and requirements to leave the workplace, hopefully with a pension.  With no party, there is no acknowledgement.

Most important, a retirement party signifies an ending. According to William Bridges, author of “Transitions” (First Da Capo Press, 2000), endings are a fundamental component of any transition.

Bridges writes that all transitions begin with endings – and most people don’t like endings.  Seniors in high school cannot wait until they graduate. At graduation, though, the tears flow.   Many workers look forward to retirement.  Yet, when that moment arrives, emotions are stirred.  Endings represent a loss.

A retirement party is just the beginning of the transition.  Bridges writes that after the ending comes a period of time called the neutral zone.  It’s a transitional period of uncertainty, not being sure what is next or where one is going.

The neutral zone, however, leads to new beginnings.  The sequence of an ending, neutral zone and new beginning was observed by Bridges when he facilitated a group of people undergoing major changes:  divorce, death of a spouse, a new baby and loss of a job. All went through the phases that led to a new beginning.

Here are some suggestions to help keep your retirement party within your comfort zone:

  • Ask a colleague to create a book of letters from your co-workers.  You can read them at your leisure and not be embarrassed, avoiding the endless accolades which you dread.
  • Learn to accept praise.  It is easier to give than to receive; it is easier to provide compliments to others than to receive them.  Giving keeps one in control; receiving is a surrender with no control over the situation or what is said.
  • Designate whom you would like to speak at the retirement party.
  • Allow others to say goodbye to you.  It will be important to them.  Think of them — before thinking of yourself.
  • Prepare some remarks.  They can be short yet reflect your feelings and thoughts about the company, your work and its people.
  • Accept a gift if presented.  It is a closure for others, if not for you.

Retirement, for many, is a gift of time consisting of choices, opportunities, family and friends.  For others it is a loss of identity, purpose, affiliation and recognition. Resistance to the term may emanate from its roots.

“Retirement” comes from the French word “retirer,” meaning to take back. “Tirer” means to draw out or endure.  And the root of “tirer” comes from the French word “martir” or in English, “matyr.” A matyr endures torture for a cause.  There is nothing positive or optimistic about the origin of the word “retirement.”

Another reason for resistance is a reference to retirees as nonproductive because they do not have a prescribed role in American society.

Productivity is an important American value that can be traced to the industrial revolution and Puritan ethic.  If retirees are considered nonproductive, it is easy to imply they are less important than those who are working because they are not contributing to the gross domestic product.  Such assumptions easily morph into stereotypes about aging and retirement.

And if being productive is part of the new retirement, what happens to those who cannot, or choose not to, be productive or engaged with their community?  How are they judged?  Do we need productive roles for adults to be valued in society?

Researchers Meredith Minkler and Martha Holstein suggest that the heavy emphasis on civic engagement ? which involves volunteering and advocacy ? may inadvertently devalue older adults who don’t participate in such activities.

Attempts have been make to replace the word “retirement.” Betty Friedan, champion of the women’s movement, wanted to find a word that did not mean withdrawal, but rather participation.  She argued that individuals who complete four years of college do not retire, they attend commencement ? and those finishing graduate school graduate.

In the fall of 2007, launched an on-line contest seeking an alternative to the term ‘retirement.” Within 10 weeks, there were 4,000 submissions.  The top 10 were aspirement, end-joy-ment, entirement, Gen R, Life 2.0, re-creation, redefinement, reinspirement, reinventment and rewirement.

The winner was Life 2.0 submitted by a retired information technology worker turned cabinet maker.  Life 2.0 was described as a new and improved version of the latest software,  reflecting a new and better chapter for today’s retirees. The cabinetmaker won a $100,000 annuity prize from Genworth Financial.

Although declared a winner, Life 2.0 has not been broadly used.

The term “Renewment” has been suggested as a substitute.  The word was created by a group of effective career women searching for a term that reflected their vision and aspirations for their future.  Renewment, a combination of retirement and renewal, suggests rebirth, choices, vitality, opportunity and personal growth.

The Transition Network, a national membership organization of women, also held a contest for a substitute word.  Their winning word was “regeneration.” And rather than retire, Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners, authors of “Don’t Retire, Rewire” (2003, Alpha), suggest “rewiring.”

Many organizations that focus on mid-to-later-life activities and opportunities omit the word altogether. Here are some examples: Coming of Age, Life Planning Network, Encore Careers, the Experience Corps and WomanSage.

The term “retirement,” though, is likely to remain with us.  Boomers have transformed every life stage and will continue to be a driving force to redefine retirement and provide us with a new vocabulary that reflects the times and our aspirations.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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