When advisors can instead provide some context and help clients understand why they are feeling the way they do, explain why retirement suddenly looks better than it did before, then those advisors will be providing clarity for people and helping them make better decisions, using something better than just the math of age and assets.

Let’s look closer at the three emotional needs: When people have autonomy, they can make choices freely and take ownership of their own behavior. When employers give employees some independence, it fosters a level of trust that allows teams to engage in activities on their own terms. That gives them a sense of enthusiasm and aligns their individual interests and values with a bigger cause.

“Connectivity” refers to people’s desire to forge close, fulfilling relationships among fellow employees. The level of connection an employee feels at work can obviously affect their motivation and desire to do their job well, and it helps a company retain that person. People with friends at work get a support network, develop compassion, and can better cope with the ups and downs of everyday life.

People’s last emotional stake in their work, their feelings of competence, means the feelings of mastery and effectiveness they have when engaging in tasks. Humans want to learn and grow both personally and professionally; they want to perform tasks confidently and develop new skills to foster mastery. But when the systems at a company keep changing or when it puts inefficient or ineffective procedures in place, that challenges their employees’ feelings that they are growing and making themselves better. 

When I applied this kind of thinking to the client I discussed earlier, several things about her workplace psychology became very clear. First, her role and say in her workplace had recently changed. A new management team wanted to micromanage her department and second-guess her every move.

Also, many of her longtime co-workers were beginning to retire. So both her circle of friends and social network were changing. Their replacements were nice, friendly and skilled, but the same level of camaraderie was no longer there. She wasn’t going out after work with co-workers anymore or celebrating life’s little moments with them.

Also, the people she worked for put new systems and procedures in place, which everyone on her floor agreed were inefficient and ineffective, and they challenged her feelings of competency. The knowledge and experience she had developed over a 35-year career meant very little. Less autonomy meant less trust and creativity. Less social connection meant less meaning and shared purpose. And less competency meant fewer feelings of mastery or workplace self-esteem. 

So she felt as if she were just doing time. Thinking about retirement made a lot of sense.  

When I put all this in context, it helped her connect the dots and realize her workplace psychological needs were not being met. That removed some of her doubt, fear and uncertainty. 

Retirement is one of the most important decisions people will make in their lives and they don’t want to get it wrong. The worry about retiring at the wrong time can cause them painful hesitation and deliberation, which is why it's so important for advisors to understand there is much more involved than just the dollars and cents.