By: Ed Laverone
When I first started in law enforcement at 20 ½ years old, I was very excited to learn I could retire at age fifty-three with 75 percent of my salary. A few years later, someone talked me into putting money in a deferred compensation program. In 2002, we negotiated for 3 percent at 50 and I was going to be able to retire at age 50 with almost 90 percent of my salary. When I thought about retirement in my thirties, my only thought was on when I could retire and where I would travel.
That all changed while I was at Command College in 2006. I met a gentleman, who I will call John. John was an employee at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. We had a short discussion in which I learned he had retired from a lengthy private sector job. John told me his old company hired a consultant to develop a program to prepare employees for retirement. My thought went to all of those CalPERS preparing for retirement classes that I had heard about. John told me that while this program did have a financial component to it like the CalPERS program, this program had a twist. The biggest emphasis was on planning socially for post retirement life. The consultant explained that this would help prepare them to stay mentally and socially healthy. While financial health gives a base for life, social and mental health are the structure of true retirement. Preparing mentally and socially for retirement? Who would have thought?
I felt like I had been struck by lightning. I immediately thought of my old sergeant who had retired and two months later died of a heart attack. Law enforcement had been his life and his identity. I thought of my friend who was a K9 sergeant. He died of a massive heart attack one week to the day after he retired. Both hated the idea of being retired. Score two for the actuaries. John had similar stories of co-workers passing away shortly after retiring. As a result, his company started this program focusing on preparing socially for retirement.
The advice given by the consultant to the pending retirees was invaluable, according to John. He had been working for almost 50 years with the same multi-national company, was in exceptional health and had a great marriage. But he had never really thought about anything beyond traveling after retirement.
Wow, John and I had a lot in common. John told me he knew he would drive his wife crazy if he was home every day. He hated golf. What was he going to do when he retired and the travel was done? He made me think, “What was I going to do when I retire?” I had many grand ideas and plans, but what was attainable? John lined up the part-time job at the Reagan Library. When he’s not there, he spends time with his grandchildren and his wife or with old friends.
In researching this article I scoured the academic journals to hope to get some empirical evidence that the social aspect is important. There was little research on preparing socially for retirement. When there was, it was as a secondary discussion to preparing financially. I received a lot of advice in my 30 years of public service about preparing for retirement. The one consistency was the advice to find a way to beat the pension actuaries. However, I had never been given any real advice how to beat the actuaries, except eat well and work out, which I am not very good at.
As my older co-workers used to tell me, find a way to beat the actuaries. But don’t just focus on it physically, but also socially and mentally. John has retained his sanity and that of his wife. John is happy, healthy and enjoying his opportunity to beat the actuaries. I am trying to do the same.
About the author: Ed Laverone, retired as a Chief Deputy Sheriff from Monterey County and a Captain from Santa Clara County. He is a doctoral candidate doing research on law enforcement officer recruitment and retention. He is the owner of Laverone Enterprises LLC, a public agency consulting service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.