Exploring Retirement

"The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing, are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all"

Peter Laslett: A Fresh Map of Life.

Welcome to the November 2018 edition of Exploring Retirement. In 2018 we are exploring some of the roles open to people in "retirement". Not necessarily full-time, not necessarily paid but all of them interesting! This month we are looking at opportunities to work on an occasional basis, a type of paid employment that can fit well with the retirement lifestyle and can be an important source of additional income for anyone on a less than adequate pension.

Exploring Retirement is fast becoming the most comprehensive source of ideas for an active retirement lifestyle on the internet.

Exploring Retirement is written by and for retired people, to assist active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. If you are interested in writing for Exploring Retirement, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

We trust that you will continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please tell your friends about the site.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Positive Retirement Study

Researchers at Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK) are conducting research to better understand what makes a positive, healthy retirement. They believe this is an important topic due to the number of older adults who have a negative retirement experience, for example, feeling depressed, lonely, or have poor physiological health.

The research team are currently recruiting retirees (or soon to be), to take part in a longitudinal study which will track their experience from employment to retirement. We hope that by taking part in this research and contributing to the knowledge around retirement transitions, you can help future retirees enjoy their well-deserved retirement.

To learn more about the study, please click here.

Quote - Unquote

"Nowhere so busy a man as he than he, and yet he seemed busier than he was".

Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

The "Busy" Ethic

We have all met people who are retired and who claim to be so busy that they don't know how they ever found the time to go to work. In many ways this can be a good thing, if they have so many interests and can enjoy their retirement to the full. Of course it is also a matter of balance to avoid the hectic lifestyle that many of us retired to get away from!

Among people approaching retirement, surveys show no fall-off in work commitment. Assuming that a positive attitude to work is carried up to the threshold of retirement, the question becomes: What do people do with a work ethic when they no longer work? The "busy ethic" is a term coined by sociologist David Ekerdt of the University of Kansas to describe people who have a strong work ethic and who feel the need to maintain a sense of continuity with their previous lives. Professor Ekerdt suggests that for some people retirement is legitimated on a day-to-day basis in part by an ethic that esteems leisure that is earnest, active, and occupied. This busy ethic, named for the emphasis people place on keeping busy in retirement, endorses conduct that is consistent with the abstract ideals of the work ethic. The busy ethic justifies the leisure of retirement, defends retired people against judgments of senescence, and gives definition to the retirement role. In all, it helps individuals adapt to retirement, and it in turn adapts retirement to prevailing societal values.

The "busy ethic" serves four useful functions -

  1. It endorses forms of leisure that are analogous to work e.g. activities that are perceived as serious and engaging.
  2. It defends retirees against ageing based on the belief that a vigorous lifestyle promotes better health.
  3. It places a boundary on the retirement role that permits the achievement of some true leisure. Because the busy ethic justifies some of one's time, the balance of one's time needs no justification.
  4. It allows retirement to conform to mainstream societal values by claiming to be responsibly busy.

Correspondence with behaviour.

Ekerdt has found that belief in a busy ethic among retirees is not necessarily reflected in behaviour. In posing the question "How active do people have to be under such a set of values?", the answer appears to be that they don't objectively have to be very busy at all! Just as with the work ethic it is not the actual pace of activity but the preoccupation with being active and the affirmation of it's desirability that matters. At bottom the busy ethic is self-validating: because it is important to appear busy, people will represent their own retirement as busy in some way.

While I was writing this piece. I did a rough calculation of how much time each week I spend being "busy". At a guess it works out at about half the time I would have spent while I was working. If anyone asks me what I do with myself now I am retired I can cheerfully reel off a litany of activities e.g. gym, tennis, language learning, dancing. This seems to justify to them that I am "busy" and yet I still have considerable "free time". As a lifestyle I find this very acceptable as I always have enjoyable activities in the week to look forward to and yet I have some discretionary time to relax or, if the need arises, to attend to the unforeseen requirements of daily living.

There is something about the "busy ethic" that I (ed) find inherently disagreeable. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be busy, if you have something you really want to do, but surely at our time of life we should no longer feel it necessary to impress other people? Shouldn't our life, post work, be about being authentic? Do I measure my self-worth in terms of what I do or in terms of the person I believe myself to be? If I want to just sit and read or spend a little time contemplating the beauty of nature, what's wrong with that? As a wise man said to me some years ago, "It's all right to do nothing". Just don't do it all the time!

Featured Activity: Occasional Work

By occasional work I mean work that does not happen at a set time every week or where you are expected to be available on a regular basis. There are many such jobs available. Here I have featured just two -

Mystery Shopper

Large retail chains such as restaurants and hotels often employ "mystery shoppers" to visit a local outlet and report back on the standard of service, the quality of the food and the general cleanliness and upkeep of the facility. Sometimes you may be asked to visit a clothes shop and purchase goods and then return them for a refund in order to check that the proper return policy is being complied with. As a mystery shopper you will be reimbursed for any food or purchases you need to make.

Positions for mystery shoppers are advertised widely on the internet. Usually you must be at least 18 years old to be considered but there is no upper age limit. Since filing your report is done online, you will need access to the internet and e-mail. Receipts for your purchases must be included with your report and you may be expected to send a digital copy using an iPhone or digital camera.

Mystery shoppers are expected to be honest and objective. Remember that your report may be forwarded to the restaurant who may wish to use it for staff training purposes. Mystery shoppers are required to be professional in their approach to the job and must be conscientious and reliable. The work will give your brain a good workout as you need to have excellent observational skills and a good memory. When you apply, don't be surprised if you are asked to complete a simple test of English grammar and spelling. The standard of literacy in the UK is very variable, to say the least.

The pay rates differ from assignment to assignment depending on the scenario. As a general guide, the assignments pay on average £5 - £10 along with additional reimbursement towards any purchases you are required to make. Some purchases you can keep and still be reimbursed for! Essentially you wouldn't do it for the money, it is more the satisfaction of doing an interesting job and discovering places that you may not have come across before. You might even get to travel to local towns and cities, see new sights and eat at different restaurants and pubs.

Examination Invigilator

Working as an invigilator for a university or college is usually seasonal as exams are normally held before Christmas and in the May-June period. Increasingly though examinations and tests may occur throughout the year. The work of an invigilator includes -

  • Ensuring that the examination room is properly set up and that the examination papers and any necessary stationery are set out.
  • Making sure that the candidates do not cheat by collecting mobile phones, calculators etc.
  • Delivering the instructions to the candidates in a clear voice and answering any questions they may have before the examination begins.
  • Collecting the completed examinations scripts at the end of the session and delivering them to the appropriate office
  • Other duties can include dealing with late comers, according to the procedures laid down by the institution and helping any student who may begin to feel unwell during the exam. Again there are usually clear procedures to be followed in cases such as these.

It is very important that the examination is conducted in a calm and professional manner and that throughout the examination the room is quiet, so that no one is distracted or disturbed. The invigilator must remain vigilant at all times and be aware if any candidate is becoming distressed or agitated.

Here is a short video that will give you a flavour of the job. Those of you who still have nightmares as a result of your own examination experiences may choose not to watch!


Michael McSorley

In the UK a sure sign that autumn has arrived is the annual ritual of "putting the clocks back". This results in brighter mornings but darker evenings, which quite frankly can be a bit depressing. Thankfully in his article this month Michael has opted to cheer us up with a little light hearted humour.

Click here to read on."

Jeanette Lewis

This month Jeanette is writing about investment clubs, an important topic in these days of very low interest rates. Most people know that they can get a better return on their money by investing in the stock market but many are put off by the inevitable risks. There is a world of difference between investing in the performance of companies you have carefully researched and speculating, based on something you may have read in a newspaper!

Click here to read on.