On Sunday, Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina to ever serve in Congress, carefully announced her retirement.
Maybe too carefully. In her explanation to The Miami Herald, she kept it vague, calling it “a personal decision based on personal considerations.”
Ros-Lehtinen, 64, had spent almost three decades in Congress. Thinking of her years of work in terms of seasons, she quoted Ecclesiastes from the Bible and said that “we must recall that to everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven. The most difficult challenge is not to simply keep winning elections; but rather the more difficult challenge is to not let the ability to win define my seasons.”
Translation: I could win again if I had to, but I’m moving on to the summer season of my life where I can relax with no taxpayers’ input.
Ros-Lehtinen had to make her announcement early, for political reasons. But her vagueness about the specific reason she decided to step out of office will fuel speculation — and that shows why retirement announcements can be fraught.
The classic retirement announcement: spending more time with your family
Leaders in other fields can be more candid about their retirement decisions.
For instance, Patrick Pichette, the former CFO of Google, was more forthcoming with his public announcement in 2015. He deviated from the bland “spend time with my family” script. In what Alphabet CEO Larry Page called the most “unconventional leaving notice from a most unconventional CFO,” Pichette was honest about wanting a better work-life balance so he could spend more time with his wife.
Calling himself a member of the “noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, ” he said his seven-year tenure at Google was a “whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be….life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore.”
By giving up a reported $5.2 million salary at age 52, Pichette’s candidness sparked a conversation about work-life balance, and also served as an example as to why the proper age to retire is no longer the government-designated 65.
Expect speculation when successful people retire
Once you’ve made your own decision to retire, you can’t just relax and start daydreaming about your beach cabana.
You have to plan how you’re going to tell your co-workers, bosses, and the public about it.
Timing matters. CNBC said that “if you signal your departure too soon, it’s possible the firm will find your replacement and push you out before you are ready. You may also be passed over for interesting projects or even pay raises.”
The higher your position, the more your announcement will be scrutinized. Did she really want to spend more time with her family? Was he really so thrilled to be replaced by some outsider who was two decades younger? Whatever details you choose to share will invite speculation.
Be specific about why this is the right time
As a rule: if you retire without a specific reason, everyone will assume you were pushed out or start speculating on the real reason you’re stepping down. Imaginations will go wild.
If you want to forestall the gossip and speculation, plan ahead.
Unless you feel like your job would be in immediate jeopardy for revealing your intentions, you should give your employer formal notice. This will help you leave on good terms, and you’re going to want that if you ever change your mind and want to return to the workforce.
Announce any plans for a new venture
Or maybe you’re retiring from one field to work in another. Be clear about that too, to make the connections you’ll need.
As Karen Dillon advised the Harvard Business Review, “You can’t just stop working and expect the phone to ring. Plant seeds early so that once you’re in circulation, experiences and opportunities will come to you.”
If you want to stay relevant years down the line, you’re going to need to do legwork now: print out personal contact lists, send your close colleagues personal goodbye notes, tell your staff in person about your decision, gather recommendations from your superiors.
Get your finances in order
On the business side, make sure to review your finances and your human resources’ compensation packages to make sure retirement is an economic possibility. If you’re advanced in your career, check on pensions; if you have a contract, make sure you’re clear on what your payout would be for retirement, if any.
Mention health if it’s the main reason you’re stepping back
The trickiest announcements for retirement or stepping down are around health reasons, which can be private and sometimes agonizing.
If you’re stepping back to focus on health or pregnancy, the company and your coworkers should know, if you’re senior enough. That’s because a change in leadership can be highly destabilizing for teams if there’s no warning or no clear, understandable reason.
Leaders usually mention health reasons because it may have an impact on their companies. JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon announced he would be treated for throat cancer, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein did the same when he needed time off for treatment. When Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer got pregnant with twins, she announced that as well, because it was important for people to know what would happen to the company.
Another benefit to being clear about health reasons: while it can be difficult to talk about personal things, the outpouring of good wishes and support from colleagues can often be highly encouraging.
Life, of course, doesn’t end with retirement. Figuring out how to leverage your years of expertise to explore new passions should be the fun conundrum you’ll now face.