Retirement Guilt? Let It Go

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Retirement guilt comes from feeling like you're leaving others in the lurch by retiring. Being grateful for the good you have experienced helps you let go.

Do you get retirement guilt?  You know, the feeling you might be letting people down.  People at work who depend on you.  They may be clients, students, or office mates you work closely with.  You will want to let that guilt go.

Where does retirement guilt come from?

After all, you’ve had people depending on you for years in your work.  When one got sick, the rest of the team pitched in.  Even so, they couldn’t cover everything all the time.  Clients and students may have experienced some gap in service because of it.  The sick one was missed.

And when someone retires, there’s the question of how to take up the slack.  Will the company hire a replacement and spend the training time?  Or will the department divide up the work and spread it around permanently?  Clients and students will have to get to know the replacement person and adjust to new ways of doing things.

In my field I have to get to know my clients, who have mental illnesses, well.  We go through a lot of problem-solving together and the more we do, the more I get them to do for themselves.  It’s a growth process and I learn a lot from them.  I hope they learn a lot from me too.  Although we are officially not friends, case managers are often the first ones called when something comes up.  We are connected not only to the clients, but to others in their lives, to back them up.

At my work,  we case managers work with therapists, psychiatrists, clerical support staff and others in the Agency to make sure the clients have good services and that those services are documented correctly.  We coordinate with other providers, such as the clients’ primary care doctors, to treat the whole person.

All this makes us very connected with a wide variety of coworkers and with others around the towns where the clients live.  It’s really hard when a client tells you they depend on you.  The little human heart hears that and says “you’re special.”

You can be replaced.

So my work puts me in the middle of a lot of people, all of whom look to me to provide my parts of the puzzle.  Do I feel guilty contemplating leaving all this?  You bet your boots I do!  I react easily to the human interactions that make close work emotionally connective.

One of the first things I learned in this field, though, was that anyone can be replaced, no matter what.  It is a fact that there are rules in any organization, and breaking some rules can result in immediate termination.  This is for the good of the organization and the clients we serve.

Another of the early lessons is to have boundaries.  These limits on relationships help us avoid conflicts of interest, protecting the clients from exploitation.  The rules include boundaries so that we don’t take “friendly” liberties with vulnerable clients.

And yet, we are dependent on one another.  When one person leaves, for whatever reason, it disrupts the team’s ability to work efficiently.  We have to learn a whole new personality and integrate him or her into the team.  There’s a lot of training involved.  But sometimes it even improves the team.

Why feel so guilty?

For me, some of the coworker relationships are pretty special.  I know, for example, that our financial case manager doesn’t need me to function.  But we’ve worked very closely on projects together to benefit clients.  I will miss her when I retire, knowing that she uses me as a sounding board when she has a question.

And I will miss the medical records lady, who helps me in crises because she has a cooler head than mine.  Let’s not forget the receptionist who can fill me in on details I don’t catch because I don’t live in the same town.  And the office manager, who is very motherly and a terrific photographer.  But they will go on helping the next person, who will be lucky to have them.  Maybe the next person will be smarter and easier to work with.

My clients will get new people to be the center point of their services.  Who knows?  Maybe some of them will do better with someone else.  Nobody’s perfect.  Even the guy who, whenever he has a personnel change on his team, grumps for six months will get over it and do fine, because that is what he does.

Letting go.

Working in the office is only part of my day, but it’s important.  I won’t miss the computer system at all.  I don’t understand the phones any more either.  Half of the clinical staff hired on in the last year and I only slightly know the children’s team.  My old associates from the other building, where I used to have my office, I only see occasionally now.

Things I won’t miss include the repetitive phone calls, the landladies venting frustrations, the little panics about a lost cell phone that nobody ever used.  I will miss the successes, tiny though they may be:  a client making his first appointment by himself, getting the hang of taking medication correctly, or finally getting his Social Security checks.

Really won’t miss the danger of bedbugs, getting cigarette smoke in my clothes, or the high mileage on my car getting to see everybody.  The jokes and comparing notes on the newspapers over coffees, the aha! moments when a new idea takes hold, the quiet success of motivation to make a change setting in–those I’ll miss.

I won’t get to celebrate the new jobs any more, or the new cars, or the new possibilities in clients’ lives.  After all, my own new possibilities will keep me busy.  But after the clients get used to new staff, I will see some of them around.  Most of them are permanent residents of the area and so am I.  It will be nice to someday have a cup of coffee, catch up and joke about the newspaper again.

What are your feelings about leaving the workplace and its people?


Retirement guilt comes from feeling like you're leaving others in the lurch by retiring. Being grateful for the good you have experienced helps you let go.Retirement guilt comes from feeling like you're leaving others in the lurch by retiring. Being grateful for the good you have experienced helps you let go.Retirement guilt comes from feeling like you're leaving others in the lurch by retiring. Being grateful for the good you have experienced helps you let go.






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