Understanding the lived experience of retirees
ESF has engaged Right Management to undertake a qualitative study to better understand the challenges people face when they retire from a career in the emergency services. By investigating the lived experience of retirees, ESF will build the findings into a new Well Beyond transitions program designed to support people across the sector plan for a life beyond service that best supports their wellbeing. We are looking for retirees who are willing to have an a phone conversation with a person from Right Management about their experience – good and bad – of the transition from work to retirement. No names will be used in the final report so confidentiality is assured. If you would like to participate in this important work please send your name and contact details to Kristen Barton: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A key area of strategic priority for ESF is to support people in transition from employment or voluntary service in the emergency management sector. Transitions can be voluntary or involuntary and happen at any stage of a career.
With funding received from WorkSafe WorkWell, the Emergency Services Foundation will work with the Learning Network to develop Well Beyond, a program of work to support ageing workers transition to retirement. Well Beyond responds to WorkSafe’s identification of older workers as a vulnerable cohort. It will initially target paid and volunteer workers transitioning to retirement voluntarily, and later be extended and tailored to other kinds of transitions, including leaving work because of medical discharge.
Well Beyond aims to provide a proactive, holistic, evidence-informed, leading practice approach to address the existing gap in support and assist people across the emergency services sector transition ‘well’ from service to retirement. The program will be adapted from a promising program implemented for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and informed by ESF’s preliminary investigation of the literature and leading practice.
The need for holistic retirement support
There is a call for better mental health support for first responders leaving employment (Beyond Blue 2018, Senate Inquiry 2019, Vic. Police 2019; McCreary 2019). Most preparedness for retirement in the sector has been found to focus on financial preparedness, whereas transition is a complex and potentially disruptive experience requiring planning and support in a range of social and psychological dimensions. In general, there is a clear gap between what agencies offer pre-retirees, and what first responders want and need to prepare for this transition. (Conroy et al 2019; McCreary 2019). There are numerous obstacles and barriers that emergency responders face when they leave service, including the loss of camaraderie, identity and meaning. Trauma, which often accumulates throughout the course of a career in this sector, is carried into retirement creating additional burdens and complications for wellbeing adjustment post-service.
The relevance and effectiveness of the program is promoted through ESF’s approach, which brings the sector together with end-users in a co-design process. The result will be a program that promotes improved mental health and wellbeing for emergency service workers transitioning to retirement by responding to the experiences and needs of ageing workers. The program will also consider gender and generationally specific needs, and other social issues to promote inclusivity.
Through sector wide collaboration, we will be able to create an evidence-based and user-responsive approach that can be applied sector wide.
In August 2021, ESF will host two co-design workshops with wellbeing managers and older workers from 14 Victorian emergency management organisations and subject matter experts to progress a whole of career transition framework for the sector, that can be tailored for agencies. This initiative emerged in response to calls from the Learning Network to support organisations know how to provide timely and helpful support for their workers at specific times in the career span. These workshops will be facilitated by Transitioning Well, a psychological consultancy which specialises in workplace transitions and is committed to help ESF drive consistent organizational and systemic change for the sector.
ESF has contracted Right Management to conduct a qualitative study to better understand emergency service workers experience of retirement. Right Management, the contracted Commonwealth Provider for transition support for the ADF, will conduct semi-structures interviews in August and September 2021 with around 30 emergency responders who have retired in the last two years to learn of the challenges they faced in their retirement journey. Insights will build the evidence for developing a program that helps emergency workers better prepare for transitioning to retirement and enjoying life beyond service.
A key element of the ADF Transition program, which informs out approach, is that each transitioning member works with a ‘transition coach’ to develop an Individual Transition Action Plan that focuses on the holistic needs of the individual and their family. The coaching model empowers individuals to self-manage their transition and tailor the level and areas of support to their specific needs. Support is also made available for up to two years post transition and ADF proactively remains connected with the individual during this period. The ADF program also includes seminars and a resource portal accessible any time in a member’s career.
Whilst the ADF program is yet to reach maturity, accumulative data collected over the period of July 2017 to October 2020 demonstrates the effectiveness of the transition coaching model regardless of mode of transition – voluntary, administrative, medical.
We will trial the coaching model based on preliminary studies by ESF (2018, 2020) of Victorian emergency service workers retirement attitudes and experiences. One study (Conroy et al. 2018) identified the need for a holistic transition program with triggers for preparation and coaching at regular intervals throughout the career. More recent research undertaken in 2020 to understand volunteer needs in transition to retirement reiterates the need for a coaching approach that is similar tot the ADF coaching and career lifespan model. The ADF Transitions Program can inform Well Beyond given that the ADF and emergency services are both high risk occupations with cultures that emphasis rank, value uniforms, are male-dominated and people that are exposed to trauma and suffer a higher-than-average incidence of mental ill-health.