Manitoba·First Person

I should look forward to early retirement, but I think I'm dreading it

On the cusp of retirement, Selkirk, Man., social worker Roxane Anderson says she is struggling to continue in a work world that has changed since the pandemic.

'Can I find my "reset" button to get me through to age 65?' asks 62-year-old Manitoba social worker

A woman with streaked gray hair stares straight ahead, standing on a rocky shoreline in front of a lake.
Roxane Anderson, a 62-year-old social worker from Selkirk, Man., is weighing the possibility of retiring early. 'Since the pandemic, my work world has changed,' she says. (Submitted by Roxane Anderson)

This First Person column is the experience of Roxane Anderson, a 62-year-old social worker in Selkirk, Man.

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I turn a page in my day-timer to the next work week. At the top of "Monday," I write "62" in red ink, to represent the remaining days I must work in order to qualify for early retirement. The same number of years I have been on this Earth.

My banker says I should work until age 65. According to my iPhone countdown app, that's 1,172 days away! The 62 countdown sounds better.

Am I burnt out or just getting too old? Can I find my "reset" button to get me through to age 65?

I am a registered social worker working in disability services for the province of Manitoba, counting the days to retirement.

In recent years, my work has changed. Before, I was in the field on home visits, returning to the office at the day's end to chart my case notes. Today, I spend most of my time in the office on email and paperwork. The social disconnect is not a good fit.

It's hard to fit the workload inside a seven-and-a-half-hour day. There's always unfinished paperwork and unanswered emails. The back and forth on email is dizzying. Why doesn't anyone still use the phone? I'm told, "You work with millennials, that's how they function."

Maybe I don't fit in anymore.- Roxane Anderson

When I emailed a government service to get help finding a resource and phone number for a client, this was the reply: "Google is your friend."

What? My client doesn't have internet. That's why I reached out to get a working phone number. (I choose not to email back. There's no time.)

On the cusp of retirement, I am struggling to continue in social work. At 3 a.m., I find myself waking up in a sweat, thinking about what is not done and who is still waiting for services. Did I mitigate risk? Did I ensure that clients were safe and protected? What did I miss?

Driving to work, inside the privacy of my car, I can let go of the flood of tears. This helps to get through the day.

'I fear I'm burning out'

Maybe I don't fit in anymore. Since the pandemic, my work world has changed. There are fewer workers to meet the needs of more clients. My older colleagues retired.

Normally, I'm quite good at helping my clients stay positive and strong in meeting their personal goals. Social work is about building strong relationships. I used to do lots of home visits, working with clients and their families. But, today, not so much. Is that what I'm missing? The human contact? In trying to find hope for my clients, I'm struggling to generate hope in myself.

I fear I'm burning out. Is that from workload or from growing old?

When the work computer freezes, it's time for a reboot. I'm now trying to do that for myself, too.

I try to keep a healthy perspective. I trained to stave off compassion fatigue. Consulted with other registered social workers. Got more exercise. Improved my diet. Worked on better sleep. I spend quality time with family and friends. I've shortened how I write my case notes. I make phone appointments to cut out travel time. I'm working smarter and harder.

This should be the best of times.…Right now, I feel like I'm failing.- Roxane Anderson

In three years, I'll be 65 and in blissful retirement, yet I can't get through the next three workdays. This should be the best of times, not the worst of times, and right now, I feel like I'm failing.

Perhaps I'm dreading my option of early retirement. I'll lose my identity as a social worker. I won't be needed anymore.

Then there are financial worries. Rising inflation. A furnace replacement. New shingles on the house roof. Longevity runs in my family. Will my pension be enough to sustain me in a retirement home, with meals, activities and a monthly entertainment night when I'm 80? When I'm 90?

This time next month, I'm scheduled for heart scans due to new pain in my chest. It's either angina-based on family history or work anxiety. I'll know soon if I have one or the other or a combination of both.

It's time for a reset. The countdown has started, and in 62 days, my heart may be in early retirement.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Roxane Anderson

Freelance contributor

Roxane Anderson lives on an acreage, situated along the Red River, north of Selkirk, Man. She is contemplating early retirement, a decision fraught with worries and one that she isn't ready to make.