Spiritual Journey Press
Workplace Friendships and Transformed Friendship Circles in Retirement

A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer 
August 28, 2020 

I am intrigued and encouraged by recent research on workplace friendships, especially in light of the pandemic. Shasta Nelson has written an interesting book on this subject, The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time. An audio interview with her can be found on the Harvard Business Review website. It is worth your time to listen to it. 

Tending well to our business related relationships make obvious sense. But what happens when we retire (which I did at the beginning of 2020)? All of my research has demonstrated that significant life transitions (graduation, marriage, divorce, change of vocation or workplace, moving from one location to another, etc.) has a profound impact on the quantity and quality of our friendship circle friendships. 

What about retirement? My final day of full-time vocational work was December 31, 2019. The next day, I recorded my friendship circles according to the model advocated by Making Friends, Making Disciples. Work-related friends from across my four decades of ministry can be found in each of the 4 friendship circles. 

Eight months is a relatively brief period of time to chart and document transitions in our circles. If one chooses their friendships wisely, quality people who merit ongoing relationship should be chosen by us. In that light, here’s what I have found in my own life journey. 

The vocationally-related friendships in my close friend circles (best friends, special friends, social friends) have remained basically stable. There has been very little change, even with the impossibility of close physical contact due to the pandemic. This has made my transition from full-time work to retirement positive and calm. 

In my outermost circle, amongst my casual friends, there has been a noticeable change in my friendships. My non-vocational friendships are stable; retiring has not had an impact on these relationships. However, among the dozens of friendships I enjoyed with ministry partners, about a third of these relationships feel weaker to me. 

Of course, this makes perfect sense, and is consistent with the kinds of relational changes we see at other transition points in the lifecycle. No one is at fault; it is natural and to be accepted, but I nevertheless find myself recalling with fondness and appreciation these people who apparently may become memories from my past. This also leads me to appreciate even more those who have chosen to stay with me as I transition into a new phase of life. Their continuing presence is an encouragement and blessing.

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