Marissa Taffer
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People retire for a lot of reasons. For some, it’s to address health issues; for others, it may be to spend more time with family or see the world. Some people want to retire early, and others plan to work well into their 70s or 80s. Some people make the decision about when to retire, while others are pushed by their employers to take an early retirement. The latter generally comes with more complexity, so for the purpose of this guide, we're going to focus on sending off colleagues who have chosen to retire.

Whatever the reason someone is retiring, it's an amazing opportunity to celebrate their career and professional achievements. You may be wondering how to do this, especially since there are so many different types of professional relationships. Sending off a colleague the "right" way will vary from person to person and business to business.

Here are some suggestions for how to appropriately celebrate a colleague's retirement. 

Why should you celebrate when someone retires?

When someone retires, it's certainly an occasion worthy of a celebration! You can celebrate their career, their professional achievements and their contributions to the company or industry in which they worked. 

While it's becoming less and less common for people to spend their whole careers with one employer, retirement is a milestone to celebrate. Work and those we work with are a big part of our lives, and some relationships go beyond just the 40 or so hours a week you spend together in the office. 

Like other transitions in life, retirement should be honored and celebrated. Even if the retiree intends to volunteer or work part-time, honoring their transition is the right thing to do. 

Remember, like all big life changes, some people may have strong feelings about retirement. Some people may be very excited,and others might be nervous or anxious. Take the retiree's feelings into consideration when determining the appropriate way to celebrate them. 

What should you do when someone retires?

When a friend or colleague retires, there are many things you might be thinking, but what you do next could have a huge impact on your relationship with the retiree. Here are a few suggestions for things to do when someone close to you retires: 

1. Plan a party.

Whether or not the party should be a surprise really depends on the guest of honor. Use your best judgement when deciding what type of party is appropriate. For someone who has only spent a few months or years with the team, a cake in the company break room might be fine. You may consider inviting their spouse or partner as well as former colleagues from other times in their career. For a vice president with 25 years of experience at the same company, a luncheon in a nice restaurant or a dinner with the executive team and spouses might be more appropriate. Again, use your judgment. How you send someone off to retirement can send a powerful message to both the retiree and the rest of the team.

2. Sign a card.

Even if a big party isn’t appropriate, asking the team to sign a card is a really nice gesture. If the person retiring has worked for the company for a long time or has made significant contributions,a card from the company owner, CEO or board of directors might be appropriate as well. If the retiree worked with outside clients or vendors,a card from some of these folks may be a nice touch.

3. Send a gift.

This is a tricky one because giving gifts in a professional context can be complicated. To make the process less sticky, some companies have signature gifts they provide to retirees along with congratulatory messages. These gifts include engraved clocks, watches, cufflinks or plaques. If you and your colleagues are going to chip in to purchase a gift, choose something meaningful that will cause the person to think of you fondly when they use it. In the case of someone who is retiring to travel, a travel-related gift or some upgraded lounge passes could come in handy. In addition to a physical gift, you could consider a donation in the person’s honor. If they have also done significant work in the community, choose a cause they have championed outside of work and make a donation. 

4. Produce a video.

While you probably can’t produce a highlight reel of their entire career, you could make a congratulatory video. Ask colleagues to film personal messages, and add in any video clips or photos. There are so many good, free or inexpensive video-editing apps now, and producing something fun and professional has never been easier. You can add music and make the video a celebration of the retiree. Be sure to keep it professional so that it can also be shared with family and friends. 

5. Create an award or scholarship in their honor.

If the retiree has made significant contributions to their field, creating an award or scholarship could be a great way to honor their legacy and celebrate their career. You may want to work with an industry association to create the award and the criteria for honorees. If the person retiring is open to it, they could present the award or be present at the ceremony where it is being given.

What do you write in a retirement card?

Your message will depend on your relationship with the honoree. If it is a valued colleague friend or mentor, you may want to write your congratulations and ask the person to stay in touch. Some retirees may stay active on social media, while others will not. Sending a message to keep the line of communication open with someone you care about is a kind gesture. 

If you worked with the person but weren't close to them, you can simply write a congratulatory message and best wishes if you feel comfortable. If you disliked the person, this is obviously not a time to express that. Keep your message short and professional. If you don’t feel comfortable signing or sending a card, don’t.

Your message should be personal if appropriate and heartfelt. Think about how you’d want to be sent off if you were retiring, and use that to guide you as you think about what you’d like to write. 

Some examples of good things to write are: 

  1. Congratulations and best wishes in retirement!

  2. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from you.

  3. Share a treasured memory you’ll have of working with the retiree.

  4. You will be missed!

  5. Stay in touch! (If you really want to stay in touch with the person.

  6. Thank you for all of your hard work and contributions. (Provide examples if appropriate.)

  7. It has been a pleasure to work with you.

Avoid humor or making jokes unless you know the person well. Some people may have mixed feelings about retirement, and not everyone wants to joke about it. If you’re especially close to the person retiring or they are known for their humor, disregard this recommendation and make a joke or two! 

While retirement can be very exciting for the person who is retiring, the rest of the team may have some other emotions through the transition. When someone retires, new team members are hired and work is often redistributed. 

This can be a great time to grow your role or talk with your manager about a promotion or lateral move. It’s okay to be thrilled for a retiring colleague and think about your own next steps at the same time.

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