When James Nininger retired as chief executive officer of the Conference Board of Canada last year, friends joked that he couldn't even retire without doing a study on it. That study came out yesterday, and one of Mr. Nininger's key recommendations to other senior executives is: "Get a life while you are still working, develop other interests."
Mr. Nininger, now 66, says he was "a workaholic" during his 23 years as Conference Board CEO and realized, well before his 65th birthday, that he had serious reservations about retirement.
"I talked to a number of people who had made, or were about to make, a similar transition [and]I learned that this transition was not necessarily an easy one and that a significant number of people have problems, some quite serious," he reports in Leaving Work: Managing One of Life's Pivotal Transitions.
Through his research, including interviews with 90 senior executives and 20 retirement planning specialists, Mr. Nininger found that roughly one-third of Canadians have trouble adjusting to retirement and that CEOs appear to have a tougher time than most if they have not thought through their own exit strategies.
One retired executive told Mr. Nininger that he missed being a CEO "and leading and helping people . . .
"And I missed the sense of power. I felt naked. It's a very strange feeling," Mr. Nininger quoted the former CEO as saying.
Others became ill when they suddenly went from working 70 hours a week to zero hours and many marriages were temporarily strained as restless former executives moved to the family room from the boardroom.
The most successful retirees are those who have eased into the situation, Mr. Nininger said. Very few former CEOs give up paid work altogether, with many serving on corporate boards of directors or continuing to work as consultants. "Many respondents suggested that people should practise working at a different pace at some point during or towards the end of their career," he wrote. "This happens more in the public sector and includes sabbaticals, special end-of-career assignments, and reduced workweeks.
"Those who took advantage of these opportunities felt they were very helpful in facilitating the change from a high-pressure work environment to retirement."
Mr. Nininger said he still devotes roughly 30 per cent of his time to paid work. He serves on the boards of directors of Montreal-based Power Corp. of Canada and Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. He designed the new governance structure for Ottawa Hospital, where he serves as a volunteer board member, and serves as a visiting fellow with the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Management Development. He is also writing a book on the topic of retirement, on his own time, "for fun."
Mr. Nininger said yesterday that senior executives "need to contemplate retirement the same way we consider important business decisions -- by investing time to plan wisely for this new phase of our lives."
With earlier retirement and longer life expectancy, many retirees can anticipate being retired for at least a couple of decades, he said, whereas, in the distant past, people worked until they died.
Mr. Nininger offers "six key life lessons" as vital to making a successful transition to retirement:
View retirement as a journey, not a destination.
Get a life while you are working, develop other interests.
Be prepared to leave -- it happens sooner or later. Adjust your work pace as retirement nears.
Cut yourself some slack after leaving; take your time to adjust.
Renew and discover relationships on your journey. (Mr. Nininger said many of the executives he interviewed had neglected their families and friends.)
Make the most out of this phase of your life.