The ten-fold path to retirement bliss

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“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

 

If you just recently came back from your vacation, you likely addressed the greatest of all existential questions. When can I retire?

 

Not that we all hate work, but some of us long for something more. Or perhaps just something different.

But what does retirement mean? Is this simply stopping work? Most of us stop work while we sleep. Some of us may dream of work, but that requires greater psychotherapy than what we have time for right now.

 

Retirement becomes a transition from one phase to another phase of life. Some consider retirement a transition into leisure, which requires its own definition.

 

Robert Stebbins, a sociologist, wrote a number of books including The Idea of Leisure, First Principles. He describes leisure as an uncoerced, contextually framed activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, using their abilities and resources, actually do in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way. He suggests taking four different ways to achieve this type of leisure.

 

Firstly, a person requires a good balance of activities. Constant leisure may be a difficult thing to achieve. One must include any number of things one does not want to do. Call them duties.

 

Secondly, leisure also requires positive continuous improvement. Sitting on a beach with an unending supply of tiny umbrella drinks sounds pleasant, and it likely could be for the first hour. Or two. But he suggests continuously improving oneself, even though this sounds exhausting

 

Thirdly and fourthly, he suggests positive relationships and positive interaction with the community. We are better overall interacting with the rest of society. After all, we are all in this together, and no one is getting out of here alive anyway.

 

I formulated a series of ten steps for a contented retirement. Because a constantly happy retirement would also be just as exhausting.

 

  1. Like Alice in Wonderland, metaphorically figure out where you want to end up. If you do not know where you want to go, then any road lined with mini umbrella drinks will get you there. This likely includes thinking where you actually want to be during certain points of time. Staying in one place allows seeing all of the seasons. Move around and perhaps you can follow your favorite season.

 

  1. An important point would be discussing retirement planning with your significant other. You are going to be seeing more of each other. A lot more. And if my spouse were reading this, I would just confirm that it sounds fantastic!

 

So it would better to be on the same page. After a few months, you might be thinking about exploring the middle of Asia. And your suffering spouse may be beginning to think that sending you there sounds like a good idea.

 

  1. Next, you really have to pin down your potential revenues coming in and what your expenses might be. We spend so much time on revenue generation that we do not spend the same amount of time as to what the future might look like and the potential costs of that. At some point in time, you are going to want to downsize that house along with your cars. This might correspond with increased medical costs. You might want to move closer to your children so that you can be closer to any potential grandchildren. A decrease in the distance is inversely proportional to the amount of guilt that is produced.

 

  1. If you adhere to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then you know that actualization can be found at the very top. If you did not become actualized before you retired, then now would be the time. Figuring out what that looks like and how to get there could become a fulltime activity.

 

  1. Working part-time gives you the opportunity to bring in a bit of spending money. This might involve using the skill sets you developed at your regular job, or perhaps you might try monetizing the hobby that you have started in the past few years.

 

  1. If possible, this would also be a great time to follow your bliss. Joseph Campbell advocated this for leading a meaningful life. Most lawyers do not appear to be in a blissful state while working, so we can safely assume that this bliss might be found elsewhere.

 

  1. Like anything, trying to maximize your happiness/contentment/bliss requires planning. Although enlightenment requires serendipity, all other forms of actualization can require a bit of planning. You should not expect that going off to the deck with a cup of coffee and the morning paper is going to maximize your HCB. Maximizing your mini umbrella collection will not cut it after a while.

 

 

  1. Developing a solid relationship with another person and getting socially active ties you in with your community. Although hell might be other people, they can be of great benefit also.

 

  1. Finally, consider retiring early. One does not know what the future holds with respect your or your significant other’s health, so it would be better to take advantage of things while you can. Predictions are hard. Especially about the future says Yogi Berra.

 

  1. Don’t forget John Lennon. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

 

 

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National Burnout Vacation

beach-female-girl-768114Clark Griswold: “Despite all the little problems it’s fun isn’t it?”
Ellen Griswold: “No. But with every new day, there’s fresh hope.”

National Lampoon’s Vacation

 

Like a lot of lawyers, you may have gone on vacation, or perhaps you plan to go on vacation.

So, what constitutes a vacation? Of course, lawyers love definitions, so Merriam-Webster suggests: “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation, a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended, a period of exemption from work granted to an employee, a respite or a time of respite from something.”

So, did this actually happen? Did you totally go off the grid for that period when you had a choice? Probability suggests you checked your email, perhaps late at night or first thing in the morning before the family woke. A little quality time with your iPad perhaps.

Why do people go on vacation? Change of pace? To get away from it all? Family pressure? To de-stress?

Perhaps you hope that this de-stress hormone lasts for as least as long as the vacation itself. Or that you can you store the de-stress hormone up as easily as the extra weight you may have put on from the extra consumption of alcohol, fats and carbohydrates that you would have otherwise avoided.

In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey of more than 1500 U.S. workers, two-thirds of the respondents said that the mental benefits of vacation disappeared within a few days. So, the vacation calmness disappears far before the weight loss does.

The reasons for increased après-vacation stress can be obvious. The workload undoubtedly accumulated in your absence, things moved on during your gallivanting. Now you must move double-time to catch up and all of that stress-filled time you spent before the vacation appears not to have been enough to keep you ahead.

If you feel stressed before the vacation and even more stressed after the vacation, then one starts to wonder about the efficacy of going on vacation in the first place.

This becomes a good time to talk about burnout. In the 2015 edition of Acta Psychopathologica, work-related stress occurs when the demands of the work environment exceed the employees’ ability to cope. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 states that disorders precipitated by specific stressful and potentially traumatic events in the workplaces are included in a new diagnostic category, “trauma and stress-related disorders.” Mind you, this abstract was dealing with the police in Italy.

If you sprain your ankle playing tennis for the first time since forever during your vacation, you likely know RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. The same RICE can identify burnout with regret, inefficacy, cynicism and exhaustion.

Over 40 per cent of California lawyers would do something different if they had to do it over again. This constitutes a high level of regret. Lack of actualization can lead to a feeling of inefficacy, and difficult as it may seem, burnout indicates even higher levels of cynicism that what you normally have. Exhaustion likely originated during articling and never dissipated.

A number of firms insist upon employees taking vacation. The firm’s rationale could range from an actual concern for employee health or for the ever-expanding health-benefit costs. If an employee leaves as a result of stress, there comes the extensive cost of locating, rehiring and training new staff. Far better to maintain the mental health of the existing staff.

In addition to vacations, employers should be considering breaks during the work cycle. Standing up and getting that wilted salad to eat in front of the computer does not cut it. An employee requires greater dedicated time to mental breaks along with physical activity on a regular basis.

The same APA study found that staff became far more productive and content with their position when employers cared about employee’s mental health.

How does an employee determine if an employer does not care about employee health and only cares about maximum productivity? Here’s a handy list of things to look out for:

  1. The organization ignores the healthy basics. Instead of healthy snacks, the vending machines are filled with sugar, salt, surgery salt, solidified fats and over-the-counter stay-awake medications.
  2. The company suggests there are no limits to productivity. This means a complete ability to work all of the time. This might be illustrated by prints showing eagles soaring through the sky, even though that’s not where the fish are.
  3. The company implies the need to be constantly on line. Perhaps they hand out those little rechargeable battery packs as bonus gifts so your phone can always be fully charged.
  4. The company does not mandate any time off. Employee of the month photos show sallowed faces, and instead of listing how many days without injury, employers list the number of days a staff has gone without a vacation.
  5. The company opposes flexible work arrangements since the attitude appears to that freedom is slavery.
  6. The top management possess the complete works of Franz Kafka, George Orwell and that dystopian one by William Golding. Other than eagles, the remaining wall prints show faces watching you.
  7. The company’s self care workshops instead of yoga emphasize speed reading and tips to get by with five hours sleep.
  8. The company maintains a great benefit plan, but it only covers over the counter products such as Red Bull and Rolaids.
  9. Your retention bonus golden handcuffs figuratively resemble golden boots encased in cement.
  10. You look up the LOA policy and it only refers to lots of aggression.

If you have one or more of these items in your workplace, then perhaps consider changing the culture or finding a new one.

#vacation

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Office Romances a Poor Idea

body-erotic-kissing-351119Office romances are a fraught affair. (And by office romances, I am referring to fully consensual relationships between adults, which is important to clarify in a #MeToo era)

In a recent 2019 Vault survey of over 700 participants, over 60 per cent of respondents admitted to dating a co-worker. In a Career Builder survey, only 36 per cent of respondents admitted dating a co-worker. The Career Builder survey appears to have a higher contingent of reticent respondents. The Vault survey also stated that over 70 per cent of employees over the age of 50 have had an office romance. This may simply reflect a longer period of opportunity, but I prefer to interpret this as a tremendous argument against ageism.

Office romances continue to happen mainly because of continuing exposure, having something in common, possessing additional information and knowing that that the HR department vetted this person. However, we have seen how HR notwithstanding, conducting extensive psychometric testing does not necessarily uncover everything. Even with social media, we are becoming more interconnected but disconnected all at the same time.

So, for example, a financial institution with 50,000 staff may have thousands of employees who are dating or have dated a co-worker. From an enterprise risk management perspective, this seems like a high probability that something could go wrong.

To mitigate this risk, according to the Vault survey, over 30 per cent of people dating a co-worker do carry on and marry. At the very least, if something goes wrong, it could no longer be suggested that the company did something wrong. In enterprise risk management parlance, we call that a transfer of risk.

The further difficulty appears to be that of the people having a relationship, over 60 per cent of those people kept it secret. This poses a further risk to the company in that they may not even be aware of a potential risk. This is one of those unknown unknowns.

According to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management survey, 42 per cent of companies have regulations in place addressing workplace romances. Most companies seem to prefer not being involved in the delicate situation of policing such a policy in the first place. Covering one’s eyes to a situation and believing it disappears only works when you are a toddler.

The first response from a legal perspective may be to ban such situations totally. Although lawyers appear to be risk adverse, they still seem to enter, leave and re-enter relationships like most normal people. After all, working in the same office is how Barack and Michelle met. I may speak for a majority of the planet occupants when I say they are missed. I base this on the Twitterverse that 107 million people follow Obama while 61 million people follow Trump.

But from a corporate perspective, such a ban detracts away from the corporate culture. An appropriate enterprise risk management office romance policy (ERMOR which is as close to AMOUR that I could get) should reflect the corporate culture. A total ban could negatively impact a company’s efforts to attract individuals when they are prohibited from being attracted to each other.

An appropriate ERMOR policy should be properly worded so as bring out those that would be disinclined to disclose a relationship in the first place. A company should consider training for supervisors in how to deal with workplace romances and how any discipline policy might be used. Office relationships should be possible so long as there is no negative impact on the individuals or the workplace. Any negative impact would then be subject to the progressive discipline policy. And not the 50 shades type of discipline.

Such a policy would also prohibit any sort of fraternization between a manager and a direct report. This includes romances or dating. As lawyers, we love to define things.

Having a consensual relationship policy assists in clarifying the situation. Bringing light and transparency to any relationship helps ensure that there has been no inducement or other pressure brought to bare.  This may include some company expectations on discouraging public displays of affection. Most of us get this discouragement from our children anyway, so it’s not a far reach to include it in the company policy.

The same Vault surveys suggests that only 60 per cent of staff appear familiar with the Company office romance policy. This also suggests that HR could communicate the existence of such a policy and the need for staff to disclose a relationship. An appropriate EMOUR policy should not disinhibit disclosure any further by compelling staff to hide the relationship any further below the sheets so to speak.

For solo relationships, we can see how excessive self-love created an undue hardship situation for a corporation In the recent case of UNIFOR, Local 2215 v I.M.P. Group Limited, 2019 CanLII 42096 (NS LA),. Although TMI, lawyers must keep up with the case law lest AI take over the research department. This case would likely not make it through the AI’s virus protection or firewalls.

Vault also found that almost a fifth of workers had affairs. Once again, taking the probability of something going wrong multiplied by the impact of when something goes wrong, and ignoring any ethic or other moral questions, from simply an ERM perspective: Just. Don’t.

#legal

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