Two new surveys suggest that even when clients have enough assets saved to retire comfortably, they don’t necessarily know how to retire.

The surveys, released at last month’s Retirement Coaches Association (RCA) virtual conference, showed a large gap between what pre-retirees think retirement will be like and what retirees actual experience, according to a panel on the retirement research.

Speaking were Fritz Gilbert, founder of the blog, and Eric Weigel, author of “Reimaging Retirement: 9 Keys to True Wealth.” Together they ran a survey of 1,700 people either two years before retirement or two years into retirement.

“We were able to get representative responses from both sides of the retirement line, which helped a lot when we got into the analysis of the results,” Gilbert said.

The Gilbert-Weigel survey, conducted in March, found that 54% of pre-retirees expected the transition to retirement to be a smooth one, while looking back only 32% of actual retirees said it was smooth.

“That’s a 20% gap on how difficult this can be,” he said, adding that the other gaps revolved around connection, identity and purpose.

Looking beyond the paycheck that comes with work, only 29% of pre-retirees said they expected they would miss the social interaction, 22% said they’d miss their sense of identity and 21% said they’d miss the mental stimulation.

But actual retirees had a different perspective, the survey found. A full 62% said they missed the social action, 31% said they missed the sense of identity and 38% said they missed the mental stimulation.  

“And the biggest challenge was the loss of structure, the routine of their day,” Gilbert said. “It was the number one item, with 39% saying they struggled with getting the balance right.”

Respondents still planning their retirement were much more worried about the financial side of things, Weigel added, as their top concern was whether their money would last.

Meanwhile, respondents already in retirement worried a lot less about money, especially if they had been retired for more than two years, he said. Instead, they cared a lot more about their health and worried a lot less about the political and economic environment.

“You can see the first couple of years into retirement are like a testing period, and once people get out of that they settle down and they figure what the norm is,” Weigel said. “The happiest people in our survey were the people who had been retired for more than two years. So the message is retirement is wonderful. But it does take a bit of adjustment.”

Gilbert and Weigel were joined on the panel by Robert Laura, the RCA’s founder. Laura presented his own survey results that complemented the Gilbert-Weigel survey.

“People heading into retirement think it’s going to magically come together and they’ll figure it all out, while the people already in retirement and experiencing it see it in a different kind of light,” Laura said of the results of the survey, conducted in April.

Looking forward to retirement, 42% of pre-retirees in the RCA survey said they thought their social connection was going to increase once they were freed from the burden of employment. But 84% of retirees said they saw a decline in their social network, with 40% saying that decline was 50% or more, he said.

“And that’s not counting the type of interaction,” he said. “Once out of the office, retirees aren’t necessarily communicating face to face, but by email.”

More than 50% of pre-retirees expected that transition period to last six months or less, but over 55% of those who were already retired was that it lasted a year or more, the survey found.

Like the first study, Laura’s found that the top challenges were lack of identity, lack of daily routine and too few friends.

“It’s purpose, identity and connection,” he said, noting that 76% of the respondents described their retirement experience as challenging.

While there is an identified need, selling retirement coaching to pre-retirees and the recently retired can still be an uphill battle, the panelists agreed.

“The problem with retirement coaching is people think retirement’s going to be awesome and they don’t need it,” Gilbert said. “But then they get there and it’s not. So we need to educate them that it can be awesome, but only with a plan.”