Visiting the Former Workplace


April 11, 2015 by Jean

Many retirees confront the issue of what their relationship to the old workplace will be. Some retirees maintain a strong relationship, even visiting the workplace almost every day. Others walk out the door on the day of their retirement and never return.

In academia, it is not unusual for retired faculty to maintain a relationship with the institution where they were employed, especially if they stay in the local community after retirement. There may be some office space designated for retirees, with continued access to campus resources like computing and the library. Retirees who continue to live in the local area are also likely to attend university-sponsored lectures and concerts, and they may even teach an occasional course.

Those who, like me, move away from the local community in retirement have to decide if they will go back to visit and, if so, how often and under what circumstances. For the past several days, I have been visiting my old workplace. I am staying with a retired friend who lives close to campus; and, before I arrived, I set up many dates for lunches, dinners, and afternoon visits with former colleagues.

On my first day in town, as I walked to campus from my friend’s house, I was feeling a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. I was looking forward to seeing my department’s new office space and to spending time with friends; but I also worried that interactions might be awkward. I tried to prepare myself for that disconcerting sense that the waters have completely closed in over the important space you thought you filled.

I needn’t have worried; my visit has been unfailingly pleasurable. I have been greeted by everyone I run into with hugs and big smiles. The friends with whom I have had my many delightful lunches, afternoon teas and dinners have acted as though they were honored to be able to spend time with me. I did not get the sense that my presence at the institution had been all but erased. The exhibit of my garden photographs that the college library mounted last year still hangs on the second floor (where I spent considerable time reading and writing), and my garden photos also decorate the sociology department’s new space. I was told that my name is invoked and my opinions cited in meetings, and colleagues in both my former departments told me that I am missed. But none of this was accompanied by a sense that I should feel guilty about retiring, that my absence has left a big hole, or that I had abandoned colleagues and responsibilities.

I don’t know when I will next visit my former workplace or how often I will do so, but I’m glad to have broken the ice by making this visit.

6 thoughts on “Visiting the Former Workplace

  1. Nice Jean. I only worked at my last workplace for 3 years and really have no desire to go back…but I do miss a few folks. Maybe I will have a chance to go back and meet a few folks….how wonderful that you had such a great visit.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I would think that retiring from a workplace where you have only worked a short time would be very different from retiring from a long-term professional home. I worked at Gettysburg College for 25 years. Although the students I taught will all have graduated in another 2 years, there are many faculty and staff with whom I’ve had long-term relationships.

  2. Jean R. says:

    What a wonderful spring treat for you and your x-colleagues. You spend so much time with co-workers over the years it’s only natural to care how things are going at an old workplace and them be curious about how the retiree is doing.

    There are so many ways that people handle their retirements. When my husband did it he was at 32 years at a place that allowed retirements at 30 years. It was a hard choice for him and when he left, he didn’t tell a single person (except Human Resources) that he was leaving, just didn’t show up one day. He thought it was a funny way to do it and so did a few coworkers who called later to report on everyone’s reactions. He didn’t go back to the work place again but in time we started going to retiree meetings and parties.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, People really do respond very differently to the same retirement circumstances. I never could have done what Don did. I have high needs for order, so it’s probably not surprising that my departure from the workplace was very well planned and orderly.

  3. Charlie Emmons says:

    You’re the best, Jean.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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