This brief is based on the following paper published by the authors:
Carney, C., Bates, L. & Sargeant, E. (2019) Exploring the impact of retirement on police officers wellbeing, Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, DOI:10.1080/15614263.2019.1658584.
What problem does your research address? Why is this significant?
Police officers may experience negative impacts of retirement given the nature of police work and the impact of mandatory age retirement policies. Studies of police retirees have identified poor health outcomes in comparison to the general population (Caudill & Peak, 2009; Ruiz & Morrow, 2005; Tuohy, Knussen & Wrennall, 2005). This research explored the impacts of police officer retirement, including those who had to retire due to mandatory age policies and the coping strategies that were used.
How did you conduct your research?
Semi-structured interviews lasting between 40 and 120 minutes were conducted with 20 police officers who had left the Queensland Police Service. Of these, seven had left after accepting redundancy packages (due to an organisational restructure), 10 had mandatorily retired at the age of 60 and three had left the service voluntarily. Two participants were female reflecting the proportion of males and females at the time the officers were recruited. The average age was 64.23 years (sd = 5.6) and the average length of service was 35.82 years (sd = 7.59).
What are your major findings?
There were four key factors affecting retirees’ subjective wellbeing: (a) social networks (b) emotional wellbeing (c) family wellbeing and (d) financial wellbeing. Many participants indicated that they missed the social networks within their job. They missed the people and the interactions that they had at work.
In terms of emotional wellbeing, participants felt conflicting emotions in terms of loss and relief, loneliness, relevance deficit and loss of social interaction. There was sadness at leaving an organisation with which they had spent their entire career. Several participants felt angry at the mandatory age retirement policy believing it to be discriminatory and outdated. For some people, their emotional wellbeing improved after retirement as they socialised with friends and undertook hobbies and activities which they did not necessarily have time for while employed.
Retirement meant that some participants had to re-negotiate family roles, particularly, if the spouse remained in paid employment. In some cases, the retiree had a more positive relationship with their spouse after a readjustment period. There were also improved or increased relationships between retirees and their children.
The financial impacts of retirement depended on the rank at which they retired, experiences of divorce and the type of superannuation held. Participants reported being worried about the financial effects of retirement, particularly as they moved from being fortnightly to monthly. Non-commissioned officers tended to have more financial concerns around retirement compared to commissioned officers. Divorce also affected the financial wellbeing of participants with some commenting that choosing their policing career over their family ultimately lead to divorce. When the divorce occurred before retirement, there is an opportunity for the officer to counteract some of the financial issues. However, if divorce occurred after retirement, this was not possible.
The coping strategies identified from the interviews included actively seeking out social support networks through volunteering, establishing friendship networks outside of policing prior to leaving the service, focusing more strongly on family and taking up a hobby. Others used passive coping strategies including the denial of the impending date of retirement and focusing strongly on work rather than planning for retirement.
What does your research mean for policy and practice?
Given police officers often spend the majority of their working life serving their communities, it is important to ensure officers are supported in retirement. Some strategies that may be considered include examining the viability of transitioning police officers from full-time to part-time or casual employment, providing information regarding the emotional, social, financial and health impacts of retirement to those who are approaching this time and developing peer support groups.
*Christine Carney is a Senior Research Officer in the Queensland Police Service
Caudill, C. B., & Peak, K. J. (2009). Retiring from the “Thin blue line”. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (pp. 1–7), October.
Ruiz, J., & Morrow, E. (2005). Retiring the old centurion: Life after a career in policing—an exploratory study. International Journal of Public Administration, 28(13–14), 1151–1186.
Tuohy, A., Knussen, C., & Wrennall, M. J. (2005). Effects of age on symptoms of anxiety and depression in a sample of retired police officers. Psychology and Aging, 20(2), 202–210.