Healthy Aging: Building Your Social Network

This is the third part in a series on the successful transition to retirement.

The first article addressed The Challenge of Leisure and was followed by Why Put Family First.  This one will expand from family to your broader social network.

As a reminder, researchers have shown that strong social relationships keep us younger, healthier, and lower our mortality risk.  In addition to living longer, healthy people lead happier lives in retirement.

Social relationships are also important as “No one is an island”.  For many professionals, a majority of our social relationships are with the people at the office.  For example, I spend more time from Monday to Friday with the people at Acropolis than I do with my family.  I view them as my work family.  (And I suspect a few of them wish I was the annoying brother that mom and dad never had, but that is a different story.)

When you leave the workplace, those relationships tend to fade, some of them quite rapidly.  For example, last year we had an employee, Deb Southworth, retire.  Deb is wonderful and was well liked by clients and her peers.  I went from seeing her almost every day to seeing her once every few months.  My guess is that “leaving” the Acropolis family was harder on her than it was on me.  (After all, I remained surrounded by 25 other great people.)

Socially it is a huge change to go from seeing the same group of people every day to only seeing them a few times a year.  Most people understand that when they retire those relationships will fade.  However, I think the severity of the change is often a shock.

As you transition into retirement your social support network becomes increasingly important.  While working, many professionals have been nurturing professional relationships, and they may have relatively few non-professional relationships.

In our experience, successful retirees generally have, or quickly develop, robust social networks.  The individuals in these networks provide them with friendship, fulfilling activities, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

As part of your retirement plan, we encourage you to think about the quality of your social network.  For example, reflect on the people you spend the most time with now and how that would look after retirement.  Do you need to expand your social network?  Have you put a plan in place to do so?

Putting a plan to grow your network is also important because we see that our clients’ social networks shirk over time.  I think of it like a rubber band, either you are pushing to grow your network, or by default, it will shrink.  Said another way, investing in people takes times and energy.

Are you going to replace your professional relationships overnight?  Probably not.  But getting involved in something else, joining a club, doing volunteer work, or picking up a new hobby can help with developing new relationships.

Healthy Aging involves keeping our entire being healthy.  The next article in this series will explore ways to keep you mentally young.