Relinquishing the HR Role

Once you retire from HR, who will you become?

By Janet Garber Dec 8, 2016

​What a relief! After 30 years in the HR trenches and a childhood spent as the oldest daughter having to "set an example" for my two brothers, I am free. No longer the know-it-all standard bearer (of morality, legality, fairness, truth, political correctness), no longer the "policewoman," the boss, or even the one who makes all your boo-boos go away.

I've been out of HR circulation now for close to two years, writing fiction mostly, publishing a comic novel and giving readings at local libraries with three of my writer buddies. My hours are mine alone. I have no one to answer to except the harshest taskmaster of all: me. Stress? What's that about? Sleep? Plenty of it. Exercise? Anytime I feel the urge, I have only to drive down to the track or the gym. I have ample time to haunt the local farmers' markets, experiment with a new recipe or knit an intricate cabled baby sweater for the next generation. The library is my friend and I'm stopping there several times a week to participate in an open mic reading, attend a special presentation, pick up the new book my book club has chosen or just chat with the staff. 

Slipping Back into Familiar Roles

But as I've said before, I miss the people. They populate my nightly dreams. I probably miss the authority—certainly I miss my role as teacher, mentor and confidante. I fear I am not putting my knowledge and experience to the best use. After all, over the years I learned how corporations work and how to reconcile the needs of the employee with those of management. I was good at resolving conflicts through mediation, conducting investigations and discovering evidence so I could render an appropriate grievance verdict. What a high it was to be in a position where I could help people! No way do I want to go back to this kind of work full time or even part time, but I'll watch the bank balance just in case.

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Recently, three of my friends found themselves in the position of being subject to a "reorganization." Each one held high-level, long-tenured jobs in private and not-for-profit industries. Knowing from experience what it takes to make everyone happy, I advised them on how best to present their cases and negotiate for a fair and equitable severance package. I referred one to a labor lawyer who reportedly said, "Whoever is advising you is doing a good job." Hey, that was me!  

"Be a consultant," advise my cohorts.

"Later," I say.

It's comforting to know there are opportunities and niches we HR folk can fit into. If said bank balance plummets due to unexpected expenses, then I'd investigate the following:

  • Setting myself up in business as a career coach. I love mentoring recent college grads whose whole work life is before them. We would redraft resumes, practice interviewing skills, cover how to present their candidature in the best possible light and explore how to avoid being just another sheet of paper in a mountainous resume slush pile. Or I'd join an employment agency if I'm queasy about being in business for myself.
  • Searching for an adjunct professor job at a local community college.
  • Enrolling in a certificate program to become a mediator. I'd contact lawyers I have worked with to let them know I am available for this type of work.
  • Registering with agencies which specialize in placing HR staff in temporary positions.
  • Seeking interim work in HR via my networks to cover absences of their regular staff.
  • Registering with ReServe, a nonprofit that helps professionals over age 55 find work in nonprofit industries.
  • Working locally in retail outlets where I would be surrounded by people needing my assistance.
  • Responding to job ads posted on the AARP and SHRM websites.
  • Looking into work as a translator, newsletter writer, freelance journalist or tour guide.
  • Networking with former colleagues, friends and family to let them know I was seeking employment on a per diem basis.

Now Is the Time to Find the Real You

Retirement presents the opportunity to rediscover the real you. Whether or not we realize it in the moment, the time we spend in the corporate world dictates our behavior and shapes our personality. We wear our professional roles like an old but comfortable pair of shoes. We adhere to the rules. We respect the hierarchy. We hope for hard work and harmony.  We project an air of seriousness, a no-nonsense attitude that fits like a suit of armor; we have seen it all and don't get riled easily.

What do old HR execs become when they leave the field? Business people in general possess many transferable skills and often, it seems to me, use retirement as a way to tap into different parts of their brain to pursue tangents they previously had little time to explore.

One hard-charging executive I worked with retired and decided to make her own jewelry. She took classes in working with gold and silver and sells her wares at local craft shows. She became a gentler, more open, much more likable version of herself. Another, a septuagenarian widow, got a new haircut, ditched her dowdy corporate outfits in favor of leggings and colorful tunics, found a part-time teaching job, and started Internet dating. A third, a retired government worker, decided to devote himself to caring for his aged parents, taking them on cruises and, in their final days, helping them get to know their grandchildren.

Right now I am in the middle of discovering if I can pull together a second novel. Scenes here and there were scribbled down over the years in journals and on the backs of envelopes. Paris in the 1970s, a French man, an American girl—who wouldn't be interested?

I must remain vigilant about my time. Ask any writer. We're master procrastinators. Any project seems more enticing than planting yourself in a chair and filling that blank page, coming out of your writing trance at 3 in the afternoon, realizing you haven't gotten dressed yet. I'll even start washing the kitchen floors or rearranging the underwear drawer. I've stalled for years, but now is my time to share my writing.

What's the attraction? When I write, I can be anyone. A saint or a monster. No reader expects me to know more than they do, help them out of a jam or light the way to a better life. If they derive some insights from my themes, great. But my purpose is not to be didactic or to preach. I am finally free to let loose the ridiculous, the silly, the angry, the stupid or the libidinous characters in my brain. They no longer have to behave.

All I want is for people to say: "Who would believe Ms. Garber had that in her?!"

Janet Garber, a SHRM member for 30 years and now retired, lives in Northern Westchester, N.Y. See

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