Retirement: A Brief History on Leaving the Workforce

Whether you’ve been in the workforce for 1 or 10 years, there’s one thing you always have to look forward to: retirement. Everyone has different strategies to maximize and enjoy their retirement, but in the end, it all boils down to leaving the workforce and focusing on what truly matters: yourself. As an employee or manager, you’ve surely come across people in your workplace who have retired or are on the verge or retiring. Employees leaving the office for good are usually treated with a party, a handful of speeches, and a series of personalized retirement gifts like engraved pens or a crystal clock.

While it does seem natural and obvious to treat those who are in the final year of their career with an engraved retirement award, you might be wondering where the practice of leaving the workforce comes from. Surprisingly, it’s a relatively recent act and has changed over time. Next you purchase a personalized retirement gift for your favorite employee, remember how retiring has its own rich history.

When Did the Age of Retirement Start?

Prior to the 19th century, most people worked until they could no longer physically do so. No fanfare. No speeches. And certainly no retirement award plaques to proudly display at home. There was no such thing as a “retirement age.” Now, we see many employees calling it curtains when they turn 65, or even earlier, depending on various factors. The act of retirement itself became officially established by government bodies in the 19th and 20th century, per The New York Times. But the word “retirement” was established prior to that.

The first known use of the word “retirement” in English was in 1650s, though the French had been using the same word since the 1570s. It referred to the withdrawal or retreatment of troops from service. The word “retirement” received individual purpose in the 1800s, when it became known as a term to describe someone leaving the workforce. While personalized retirement gifts and perks wouldn’t be given for centuries later, it should be noted that the Roman empire was one of the first to provide pensions for its military. Even then, the word “retirement” wasn’t used, so what caused the word to become common? The Industrial Revolution. The push in technology and efficiency brought about major changes in the way people worked. For the first time, people began to work in factories for long hours. This was a far cry from the agrarian and more simplistic lifestyle most people were used to. In a bid to keep workers engaged, retirement plans began to manifest in the 1800s.

Consider the Civil Service Retirement Act of 1883, which established a retirement plan for federal employees. This was followed by several states offering retirement plans and perks for public employees in the 1900s. American Express notably began to offer one of the first private retirement plan for its employees in 1875. After the Great Depression led to economic depravity, Social Security was established in 1935 to provide a safety net for the elderly. It was originally intended to be a supplement to private pensions, not a replacement for them.

Of course, the perks of retirement were slim in those days. Today, retirement is seen as a major milestone for workers all over the world. Many employers compete to provide the most comprehensive retirement plans and perks. And to top it all off, employees are often given personalized retirement gifts to make the moment all the more special. Trophies and plaques are common corporate gifts that are awarded. Some employers opt for luxury corporate gifts, such as personalized clocks, especially those which are made of premium crystal.

A great retirement gift is one that feels personal and celebratory. Engraved awards are always a must and should ideally come with a ‘thank you’ note that celebrates the number of years the employee has put into the company. Retirement award plaques and trophies are a great place to start, but consider the employee’s needs and personality to make the gift all the more special. As the years changed, so did the way retirement was perceived. Decades from now, it’s possible that retirement gifts as we know them will evolve.