Knowing when to retire (and when not to)

Published: 27 Jun 2019

When thinking about when to retire, many people’s minds turn straight to finances. And while this is a major consideration in your retirement decision, it isn’t everything; there are other considerations such as health, responsibilities outside your career and the lifestyle you want to achieve.

“The first question is, can you retire? Not only financially, but in making that adjustment – after all, retirement is one of the big stressors in life,” says retirement author Jill Weeks. Research found in the SuperFriend report, Planning for a Mentally Healthy Retirement, tells us that the level of control you have over your decision to retire can impact your mental health well into retirement, so good planning is an important aspect.

There are a number of additional questions to ask yourself as you determine when will be the right time to retire.

Is it a choice?

Being able to make the choice to retire is the ultimate aim, however this isn’t the case for many Australians. “Maybe your health has forced you to retire, or you’ve been retrenched, the death of a spouse has impacted your decision or selling a business can make that choice for you,” Weeks says of the factors that can remove the level of choice. “That’s a very difficult thing.”

If you’re struggling with a retirement decision that has been made for you, or you feel forced into it suddenly, you may need to be mindful of your mental health while you adjust. Seek support from your family and friends, or call Beyond Blue for advice.

What are the pull factors?

If you’re headed towards retirement with some options ahead of you, you could be experiencing some pull factors. These are the things pulling you towards wanting to retire – such as wanting to spend time with family and friends, pursuing interests and hobbies, or undertaking caring responsibilities – and they can be really positive reasons to kickstart this next stage of your life.

Your pull factors might help you make that final decision. “Many people say they want to be doing something fulfilling, not just time filling,” says Weeks. That might mean taking on new interests, expanding on previous hobbies, doing volunteer work, or taking a non-traditional retirement path such as a part-time job or business.

What is your situation at home?

It’s likely that you’ll have people around you – your partner, family or friends – with whom you’ll discuss your thoughts about retirement. Their points of view might influence your decision, including things like whether you’d like to travel together, whether your partner is retired, and any caring responsibilities you have towards younger or older family members.

Is this what you want?

13% of Australians say they never want to retire; a decision that can be possible depending on your work and your goals within and outside your career. Remember that it’s okay to not feel ready to retire, even when those around you are suggesting you should, as long as your physical and mental health are taken into consideration with that decision.

Finding joy in retirement...the second time around

Wendy Davis retired due to health struggles, just like 23% of her fellow retirees. After trying various options during her time as a school principal, at the age of 53 Wendy reached the conclusion that she needed to leave in order to recover fully. She announced her retirement and focused on getting well.

Over the next 15 months, Wendy’s physical and mental health recovery involved exercise, counselling, art and photography classes. It wasn’t quite enough, however. “Something was missing … and I was missing!” Wendy says. She soon realised that retirement was something she’d wanted to do on her own terms, and she wasn’t happy with that opportunity being taken from her.

Wendy returned to the school system, this time in a part-time role two days a week teaching a creative subject she loved. The role grew to four days a week and Wendy even went back to university to gain further qualifications. “I found my mojo again,” she says happily.

She started to feel ready for retirement several years later, while looking after her grandchildren. “The love of this overtook the love of teaching,” Wendy describes. As this happened, she also noticed her interest in her job waning and her tolerance for bureaucratic changes and administrative tasks was decreasing. “It was a sign I needed to stop working in schools as a teacher,” says Wendy. “I knew.”

Retiring for the second time at age 60, Wendy says it was that inner sense that it was time that helped her make the final call to retire. “Retirement will call you,” she says when asked of her advice for others in a similar quandary. Now, she and her husband have made a sea-change and they’re settling into a new lifestyle.

Doing retirement on her own terms is exactly the way Wendy wanted it to be.

For more information on retirement wellbeing, refer to SuperFriend’s Planning for a Mentally Healthy Retirement report.


  • Retiring suddenly: email provided by SuperFriend with statistics from Dr Jo Earl
  • SuperFriend report: Planning for a Mentally Healthy Retirement
  • Healthy retirement literature review, provided by SuperFriend
  • (Case study’s name changed at her request)

This article was provided by SuperFriend, a national health promotion foundation that helps “all profit to member” superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace.  SuperFriend provides easy to understand information about mental health, tips on how to create supportive work environments and importantly, where to find reliable help if you or someone you know needs assistance.