An application of the theory of work adjustment

Counseling for continued Career development after retirement: an application of the theory of work adjustment

Melanie C. Harper

The theory of work adjustment (TWA; R. V. Dawis & L. H. Lofquist, 1984; L. H. Lofquist & R. V. Dawis, 1969, 1991) is useful in addressing the career counseling needs of retirees who want to continue working but who need to explore their career choices before settling on a new occupation or job. This article examines some of the challenges that midlife and older adults face as they plan postretirement careers. Information about TWA and a case example are provided to assist counselors in understanding how TWA can be applied to retirement career counseling.


Although retirement is traditionally defined as the end of a career and the withdrawal of the worker from the workforce to live a life of leisure, using savings or a pension (Morris, 1976), a significant percentage of retirees want or need to continue working after retirement. One third of the retirees who responded to a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP; 1993) indicated that they would prefer to work. Gardyn (2000) emphasized the extent of interest in postretirement volunteerism by citing a study conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. In this study, 50% of the surveyed 50- to 75-year-olds identified “volunteering or community service” as the most important element in their retirement plans. In a series of focus groups, some midlife adults explained their reasons for preferring to work after retirement as financial needs and as a desire to stay active (Simon-Rusinowitz, Wilson, & Marks, 1998).

In consideration of the retirees who continue to work, the term retirement is used throughout this article to indicate the act of a midlife or older employee leaving a job that was held for a significant time and that typically offered retirement benefits to the employee. This article focuses on career development after such a retirement and provides guidance for applying the theory of work adjustment (TWA; Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Lofquist & Dawis, 1969, 1991) to retirement career counseling.

Developmental and Social Challenges

Awareness of the developmental and social challenges that midlife and older adults face is important for understanding a retiree’s decision to retire and the retiree’s process of making postretirement career decisions. As retirees face the developmental tasks of generativity versus selfabsorption and integrity versus despair, they encounter the challenge of maintaining vital involvement during retirement (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986). Erikson et al. identified social contact with former coworkers, devoting time to friends and family, and care of the home as avenues for maintaining vital involvement, but they stated that these activities might lose their allure over time. Erikson et al. noted that planning and appraisal of one’s capacities can help the individual find creative outlets and possibly a new work identity.

For retirees, the appraisal of one’s capacities includes examining physical and mental concerns and family demands. Although the percentage of healthy older adults is increasing (Adelman, 1998), after midlife, the prevalence of physical health problems, such as chronic illness, functional impairment, functional limitation, and physical disability, increase steadily with age (Atchley, 1998). In addition to possible physical health decline, older adults might become aware of changes in their mental functioning. Remembering specific information such as names, dates, and objects often becomes slower (Adelman, 1998). Even though many older adults adapt to their physical limitations by compensating for them or minimizing the effects of them, the limitations still might affect their decisions concerning future career choices (Adelman, 1998; Atchley, 1998). In addition to dealing with their own physical and mental changes, midlife and older adults increasingly encounter responsibilities for the care of aging parents, ailing spouses, grandchildren, and other relatives (Moen, 1998; Simon-Rusinowitz et al., 1998). These family demands sometimes limit the hours a retiree can work and the willingness of the retiree to accept a job that requires travel or relocation. In appraising capacities, the retiree must examine current and future physical and mental abilities and any caregiving obligations the retiree has to family members and others.

In addition to being challenged by changing capacities, some retirees recognize that their career development options might be limited by social attitudes toward aging. Johnson and Neumark (1997) found evidence of age discrimination when they evaluated data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Older Men. Approximately 7% of the respondents to this survey reported experiencing age discrimination in such areas as interviews and hiring, assignment and promotion, and demotion and layoffs. Even with a wide range of capacities, retirees might experience their career options as limited simply because of their age.

In a review of the retirement literature, Carter and Cook (1995) used role theory to examine the retirement transition. They identified connection with coworkers, involvement in work activities, and self-identity as some possible losses associated with retirement. Concerning self-identity, Carter and Cook asserted that remaining in the workforce after retirement might fulfill the need to feel productive. For individuals who tie their self-identity to affiliation with a specific profession or organization, retirement poses special challenges to the reestablishment or maintenance of their self-identity. Regardless of whether self-identity is challenged, finding substitutes for ongoing coworker contact and involvement in work activities can be difficult. Amidst their own limitations, age discrimination, and losses associated with retirement, many retirees find ways to continue career involvement.

Postretirement Career Involvement

Retirees participate in the workforce in a variety of ways. Some retirees who have experienced a high level of satisfaction in their preretirement work continue working part-time for their preretirement employer or seek similar employment from a new employer. Retirees who desire a change in their work or who are unable to find employment similar to their preretirement jobs can search for new career paths. Career involvement can include paid work or participation in volunteer activities.

Seongsu and Feldman (2000) investigated employment that followed retirement by studying the retirement of 371 professors from the University of California system who accepted an early retirement incentive package in 1994. The retired professors were surveyed in 1999, and the results of the survey indicated that the professors’ postretirement work was related to their retirement satisfaction and to their overall life satisfaction. The postretirement work patterns of these retirees illustrated that many retirees choose to continue working and that given the opportunity, a significant number of retirees choose to continue performing their preretirement jobs. With many retirees deciding to continue working after retirement, counselors must be ready to assist retirees in developing postretirement career plans. TWA (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Lofquist & Dawis, 1969, 1991) can provide counselors with guidance in how to approach career planning with retirees.

Using TWA in Retirement Counseling

TWA (Lofquist & Dawis, 1969) was one of the earliest career counseling theories to propose the use of career counseling during the retirement transition. In advocating for TWA, Dawis and Lofquist (1984) stated that a primary objective in retirement career counseling is for the retiree to achieve a level of individual-environment correspondence during retirement that is similar to what the retiree experienced before retirement. They explained that counselors could use TWA to understand elements of the individual’s work environment that would be lost as a result of retirement and to create a career plan that identifies suitable replacements for these losses. This understanding of losses and identification of suitable replacements lead to correspondence, a postretirement environment that satisfies an adequate set of individual needs met in the preretirement environment. For some retirees, the suitable replacements address a few significant losses, and for other retirees, the suitable replacements address a wide range of losses that the retiree views cumulatively as significant. Although TWA does not provide a clear formula for determining adequate individual-environment correspondence, TWA asserts that without the development of individual-environment correspondence in retirement, the retiree must accommodate for losses in the retirement environment. By exploring skills and abilities, needs and values, interests, and personality style and by examining levels of past career satisfaction and satisfactoriness of performance, the counselor and the retiree can identify the significant elements that will form the retiree’s new individual-environment correspondence.

Because maintaining involvement during retirement is vital, deciding the best way to do so is clearly a primary focus of retirement counseling. TWA’s strengths for use in working with adults facing retirement include the focus on numerous facets relating to adjustment and the examination of the components of individual and environment fit. TWA seems to do a reasonable job of theoretically laying out the various components of the individual dimensions and matching these dimensions with corresponding environments in order to optimize satisfaction and satisfactoriness. Specifically, the counselor using TWA with a client who is planning for retirement attempts to help the client compare skills and abilities with the requirements of the environment, needs and values with the reinforcers of the environment, and personal style with the work environment style. TWA also could be used to help clients explore aspects of the work environment that would account for feelings of loss and to examine retirement environments that might help to compensate for those losses.

One of the strengths of TWA and its relevance to counseling retirees is that TWA expands the view of work beyond tasks and procedures by including relationships and other potential sources of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. In TWA, job satisfaction and satisfactoriness are important aspects of work adjustment (Zunker, 2002), job devotion, morale, and productivity (Sharf, 2002). TWA focuses on adjustment rather than on career choice and defines adjustment as ongoing transactions between the work setting and the individual, a point of view that is based on the assumption that both the person and the environment are dynamic, changing, and flexible (Lent & Hackett, 1994).

Although other theories also consider abilities, preferences, and values, they do not consider the work environment as separate from the person (Lubinski & Benbow, 2000), nor do they place equal weight on assessing both the environment and the client. For example, Holland (1966) posited that work satisfaction is related to the congruence between the person and the job, whereas TWA explains various aspects of work adjustment as correspondence between individual needs and abilities and job (or environment) reinforcers and requirements (Dawis, 1994). “Both the worker and the work environment have needs and requirements, respectively, that must be satisfied. Adjustment to work is achieved when the person and environment are co-responsive to each other’s requirements” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2002, p. 11).

When describing the use of TWA in retirement counseling, Dawis and Lofquist focused on achieving postretirement satisfaction in a nonwork environment (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Lofquist & Dawis, 1969, 1991). Although they acknowledged the possibility that the retiree might perform some work in a traditional job, their discussions concerning retirement counseling focused on finding a suitable level of individual-environment correspondence outside the world of work. They emphasized work in volunteer and avocational environments, and they stated that one role of the counselor might be to assist the retiree in accommodating to an environment that does not have an ideal level of correspondence to the retiree’s needs (Lofquist & Dawis, 1984). The following sections describe how some of the major elements of TWA can be used to assist a client in creating a postretirement career plan that offers a high level of individual-environment correspondence. Although this article focuses on planning for a postretirement career, whether the retirement plan includes traditional jobs or work assignments in volunteer environments depends on the needs and values of the individual and the suitable career environments that are available.

Individual Dimensions

The individual dimensions of individual-environment correspondence are identified as skills and abilities, needs and values, and personality style (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). The individual dimensions represent what the individual brings to a job, a career, or retirement. For retirees, the individual dimensions often are rich with skills that have been honed and experiences that have been accumulated over numerous years of service. These skills and experiences combine with the retiree’s changing needs and established personality style to form the retiree’s individual dimensions.

Environment Dimensions

TWA is one of the few career development theories that acknowledge the role of environment, beyond environment type, in contributing to or detracting from satisfaction. The environment dimensions of individual–environment correspondence are ability requirements, reinforcer factors, and work environment style (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). The environment dimensions represent the demands and offerings of an occupation or a job. The ability requirements comprise the set of abilities and skills that the worker must bring to the job in order to perform the job satisfactorily. The reinforcer factors consist of the conditions in which the worker performs the job. Reinforcer factors can include employee benefits, rewards, and all facets of the job environment. For example, pay, autonomous work, and supportive management can be reinforcers. The work environment style describes the requirements of the job for celerity (i.e., speed), pace, rhythm, and endurance. Unlike most other theories, TWA considers the amount of energy and concentrated effort that the individual may be willing to invest or is capable of investing (Lubinski & Benbow, 2000). By examining the satisfying environment dimensions of the preretirement job, the counselor can assist the retiree in identifying ability requirements, reinforcer factors, and work environment style that would provide a satisfying retirement environment.

Retirees who want to balance future work with family responsibilities frequently look for part-time work as one element of the environment dimensions in their career plans. Part-time work might provide the work flexibility needed for the management of family responsibilities while enabling the retiree to maintain an income and satisfy the desire to stay active (Moen, 1998; “Part-time work,” 1997; Simon-Rusinowitz et al., 1998). For such retirees, work flexibility, income, and continued activity are important reinforcer factors. The continuation of an identity as a worker and the status associated with a job title might also serve as important reinforcer factors, while the slower pace and decreased intensity of part-time work might provide a more satisfying work environment style in which the retiree continues to use and increase skills and abilities.

In addition to looking at the general ability requirements, reinforcer factors, and work environment style of a career environment when working with retirees, a counselor should encourage the retiree to investigate the potential career environment for evidence of age discrimination and for other applicable types of discrimination (e.g., see Degges-White & Shoffner, 2002). Age discrimination is one environment factor that might contribute to a reduced level of satisfaction. Some questions the counselor and retiree could discuss include the following: Does this work environment support or discourage age diversity among workers? Does age seem to play a role in hiring, assignments, evaluations, promotions, and layoffs? Will the retiree feel accepted and valued as a contributing individual in this job? If the counselor and retiree find that the potential career environment does not support older workers, the counselor and retiree might decide that the environment dimensions do not adequately correspond with the retiree’s individual dimensions. The discovery of inadequate individual-environment correspondence should lead the counselor and the retiree to investigate other work environments.

Predicting Work Adjustment

According to TWA, satisfaction and satisfactoriness are required in order for work adjustment to be achieved (Lofquist & Dawis, 1984). Satisfaction refers to the feelings the worker has about the job. Satisfactoriness refers to the assessment the employer makes of the worker’s performance on the job. In predicting postretirement work adjustment, the counselor should examine the levels of preretirement work satisfaction and preretirement work satisfactoriness.

The factors that contributed to the retiree’s level of preretirement satisfaction should be present in the retiree’s postretirement career or nonwork plans in order for the retiree to achieve a satisfying level of individual–environment correspondence. For example, if ability utilization was very important for achieving preretirement satisfaction, the retiree’s postretirement work or leisure activities should use an adequate number of the retiree’s abilities to increase postretirement work adjustment. If the retiree did not experience a high level of satisfaction in preretirement work, the counselor and retiree should examine the desired factors that were missing from the previous environment dimensions and any impediments to satisfaction that were present in the previous environment dimensions. Through this examination, the counselor and retiree can increase their understanding of the factors that affect work satisfaction for the retiree.

As long as the retiree continues to work for other people (either for pay or in a voluntary capacity), satisfactoriness continues to play a role in work adjustment. Similar to postretirement satisfaction, the counselor can use clues from the retiree’s preretirement satisfactoriness to predict the retiree’s postretirement satisfactoriness. If the retiree performed the preretirement job in a less than satisfactory manner, the same shortcomings likely will reappear in the postretirement job if the individual-environment correspondence is similar. If the retiree’s preretirement performance was highly satisfactory, the retiree likely will perform satisfactorily in a similar postretirement work environment.

Levels of satisfaction and satisfactoriness are indicators of how well the retiree’s individual dimensions correspond to the environment dimensions. When examining past satisfaction and satisfactoriness and predicting future satisfaction and satisfactoriness, the counselor and retiree should compare the retiree’s skills and abilities with the skill requirements of the jobs and activities, the retiree’s needs and values with the reinforcer factors of the jobs and activities, and the retiree’s personality style with the work environment style of the jobs and activities. By matching individual dimensions with environment dimensions, the counselor and retiree attempt to increase the retiree’s levels of satisfaction and satisfactoriness.


Rather than specifying a step-by-step approach to assessment, TWA provides a flexible framework for assessment. With TWA, counselors can use a number of instruments to psychometrically examine a worker’s individual–environment correspondence (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). Among these instruments are the General Aptitude Test Battery (U.S. Department of Labor, 1970), which can be used to assess abilities and skills; the Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (Rounds, Henly, Dawis, Lofquist, & Weiss, 1981), which can be used to assess needs and values; and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (Weiss, Dawis, England, & Lofquist, 1967), which can be used to assess employee satisfaction. Instead of using any of the specified instruments for retirement counseling, however, the counselor might be able to infer individual–environment correspondence information and previous job satisfaction and satisfactoriness information from the retiree through interviews (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). Some of this information also might be gathered through biographical and work environment information that the retiree reports on the Biographical Information form (Lofquist & Dawis, 1991).

Jensen-Scott (1993) offered sample questions a counselor can use to assess an individual’s retirement needs. These sample questions are general enough to obtain information about many facets of the retiree’s individualenvironment correspondence. One such question and its follow-up are “Besides a paycheck, what do you get from your job? What do you like and dislike about it?” (p. 261). By asking questions as general as those offered by Jensen-Scott, the retirement counselor might be able to get information that is needed to assess the retiree’s individual dimensions and to explore possible corresponding environment dimensions.

Achieving Individual-Environment Correspondence

Achieving individual–environment correspondence requires significant skill from the counselor. Dawis and Lofquist (1984) described the process by which the counselor and client work together to identify postretirement occupations and nonwork activities that might provide the retiree with individualenvironment correspondence. After discussing the assessment results and predictive information with the retiree, the counselor identifies postretirement occupations and leisure activities that might offer environment dimensions that correspond to the retiree’s individual dimensions. The counselor compares the skills and abilities of the individual with the requirements of the environment, the needs and values of the individual with the reinforcers or the environment, and the personal style of the individual with the work environment style of the job. The counselor can refer to the Minnesota Occupational Classification System III (Dawis, Dohm, Lofquist, Chartrand, & Due, 1987), the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991), and the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.) while comparing the individual and environment dimensions. Dawis and Lofquist (1984) indicated that a source for similar environment information about nonwork activities does not exist but would be useful to retirement counselors. Until such a source is available, counselors will need to have a considerable amount of knowledge concerning a wide range of nonwork activities.

After compiling an initial list of occupations and nonwork activities, the counselor and retiree can narrow the list by removing items that have a low level of feasibility or that the retiree finds least interesting. The counselor and retiree can further narrow the list by considering how well each of the occupation and activity environment dimensions correspond to the retiree’s individual dimensions.

After the list of occupations and nonwork activities has been narrowed sufficiently, the retiree can explore the remaining occupations and activities to determine whether they match his or her lifestyle needs, interests, and individual dimensions. If the retiree is unable to find an occupation or nonwork activity that provides individual–environment correspondence, the retiree and the counselor should explore the possibility of designing a new job or of creating a retirement environment that consists of multiple occupations and nonwork activities (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984).

The following case example helps to clarify how a counselor can use TWA with a client who is planning for retirement. In this example, the client must continue working after retirement for financial reasons and must change careers for health reasons. The case example presents information concerning the worker’s individual and environment dimensions, predicted level of work adjustment, methods used for assessment, and final plan for achieving individual–environment correspondence.

Case Example

Jean Allen, a 53-year-old single mother, had worked at a discount store since high school. Because she had worked at the same store for more than 30 years, she became eligible for early retirement when she reached 55 years of age. When she was a couple of years away from that early retirement mark, Jean decided to use the employee assistance program to help her figure out how she could retire from her job as a checkout clerk as soon as she became eligible for retirement. Jean explained to her counselor that she would not be able to retire without moving into another job. When asked what she wanted in her next job, Jean said that she wanted some flexibility, some new challenges, and the opportunity to interact with people. She said she did not want to continue working as a checkout clerk after she became eligible for retirement. Jean talked about back problems that were related to standing on her feet for long hours. She described herself as a single mother and said that her only daughter lived about three blocks from her, along with a 7-year-old granddaughter and a 5-year-old grandson. Jean said that she did not want to move away from her grandchildren but wanted her world to “grow bigger.”

During this first session, the counselor was able to gather some basic information about Jean’s individual dimensions. The counselor noted Jean’s sales skills and interpersonal abilities; her need for flexibility, close proximity to family, and compensation; and her celerious (speedy), high-paced, stable, and enduring work style. The counselor also clarified obstacles that Jean faced in developing a suitable postretirement environment. Obstacles included an education level that was limited to a high school diploma, back problems, and a need to transition to a new job at a specific time (age 55 years).

After getting to know a little about Jean, her individual dimensions, and her reasons for entering counseling, the counselor ended the first session by asking Jean to complete a Biographical Information form (Lofquist & Dawis, 1991) first and then the Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (Rounds et al., 1981). The counselor anticipated that completing these instruments would encourage Jean to review her past and present and to anticipate her future. The Biographical Information form provided a structure for reviewing the past and present, and the Minnesota Importance Questionnaire gave Jean a structure for beginning to clarify the elements that would be present in a satisfying postretirement career environment.

In subsequent sessions, the counselor further examined Jean’s individual dimensions by having Jean describe her skills, abilities, needs, values, interests, and personality style. They discussed these individual dimensions in relation to the information Jean provided through the Biographical Information form (Lofquist & Dawis, 1991) and the Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (Rounds et al., 1981), and they talked about job alternatives that Jean had considered at various points in her life and her interests and activities outside of work. Jean pointed out that the Biographical Information form did not ask about grandchildren or about adult caregiver responsibilities. She reemphasized that she could not relocate because she wanted to be a part of her grandchildren’s lives and because she wanted to be available to help care for her parents, as needed.

The counselor examined the environment dimensions of Jean’s current job and her level of past work satisfaction by having Jean describe the factors that kept Jean working at the discount store throughout her adult years and the aspects of her job that she liked and did not like. The counselor explored Jean’s perceived level of work satisfactoriness by asking Jean about her quarterly evaluations, the ways she had been recognized by management, and how she felt she was treated in comparison with other employees. Based on her current job satisfaction and her high level of performance satisfactoriness, Jean and her counselor predicted that Jean could find satisfaction and satisfactoriness in a postretirement job if adequate individual–environment correspondence was achieved.

The counselor encouraged Jean to review the information derived from her Minnesota Importance Questionnaire report (Rounds et al., 1981) and to consider ways that these work values might be met through her postretirement career and leisure activities. For example, the counselor explained that Jean’s high desire for social service could be met through work with people on the job or through volunteerism outside the job. The counselor suggested that Jean refer to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991) as she considered career options. Although the size of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles can be intimidating, the counselor explained that Jean could narrow her search within this document by looking at categories, divisions, and groups of occupations that seemed the most interesting. The counselor further instructed Jean to use her imagination, knowledge of community resources, past experience, and conversations with friends and family members to help her identify possible satisfying volunteer and leisure activities that might complement her postretirement career.

The counselor and Jean discussed Jean’s retirement plan and the benefits that were available to her before retirement and after retirement. Although Jean said that she had used her company’s tuition assistance program when she was “right out of high school,” she said that she believed that the program no longer applied to her because of her age. The possibility of using the tuition assistance program to train for a new career or to prepare for postretirement leisure activities appealed to Jean, and she agreed to gather admissions and curriculum information from the local college.

After studying the college information, the information from her Minnesota Importance Questionnaire report (Rounds et al., 1981), and some of the job information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991) and after considering the personal information she explored with her counselor, Jean decided to return to school part-time and to pursue a real estate agent’s license while continuing to work toward retirement at the discount store. Jean said that as she considered the career values that were important to her, she became increasingly aware that working with people was a requirement for her postretirement career and that staying busy, working independently, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and maintaining a flexible schedule were key elements that would help to make her satisfied. She said that the occupations she was most attracted to in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles were the ones that are listed in the sales category. Although she was attracted to several different types of sales occupations, Jean indicated that real estate sales seemed to offer the most schedule flexibility and work independence. Jean also commented that real estate sales might help her make a significant difference in people’s lives and might provide her with the opportunity to get to know people on a deeper level than she would find in other sales careers. Jean said that her knowledge about sales; her lifelong experience living in her hometown; and her many contacts through her work, church, and daughter would help her become a successful real estate agent.

In addition to deciding on a postretirement career as a real estate agent, Jean decided to explore one new area of volunteer and leisure activities. Although she was satisfied with her current leisure life, Jean said that she wanted to grow in more ways than just through a career. She said that as she looked through the listing of service occupations in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991), she noticed the occupation of usher. Jean said that several years earlier, a former coworker had talked about volunteering as an usher for cultural events in the community. In exchange for volunteering to usher, the coworker was given free admission to the events. Jean said that she wanted to find out more about volunteer ushering so that she could attend cultural events that she never had been able to afford. After making the decision to learn more about volunteer ushering and to start training for her postretirement career as a real estate agent, Jean said that she felt happier in her current job because she was working toward “a future I can look forward to.”

Jean and her counselor developed a postretirement career plan that contained a significantly different individual–environment correspondence than Jean had experienced prior to retirement. This different environment addressed Jean’s need for flexibility and reduced demands on her back and allowed Jean to move from working at a stable rhythm to a more cyclical rhythm. The common elements between her preretirement and postretirement career environments included the use of sales skills and people interaction abilities; the satisfaction of financial needs and her need to remain in her hometown near family and friends; and the need for a sometimes speedy, high-paced, and enduring work style. Her postretirement career plan facilitated Jean’s desire to continue to develop professionally, and the transition to a commission-based pay system challenged Jean to become more self-motivated. Because her postretirement career plan allowed Jean to occasionally volunteer as an usher and to start as a part-time real estate agent while still working in her preretirement job, Jean was able to try out her new career environment and determine whether the individual–environment correspondence was adequate before she actually made the retirement transition.

Implications for Counselors

Counselors who work with retirees or with adults who are preparing for retirement should explore postretirement career plans with their clients in order to help them develop ways they can maintain vital involvement amidst the challenges of later life. By using the major elements of TWA (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Lofquist & Dawis, 1969, 1991), counselors can assist their clients in identifying their individual dimensions of skills and abilities, needs and values, interests, and personality style and in matching those individual dimensions with corresponding work and nonwork environment dimensions. Counselors can use interviews, information forms, and assessment instruments to gather insight into their clients’ individual dimensions and past work experiences. By clarifying individual dimensions and exploring the factors related to past job satisfaction and satisfactory performance, counselors can help retirees recognize factors that might be key to future satisfaction and satisfactoriness. Working with a retiree to identify and explore postretirement career and activity options that match the retiree’s individual dimensions and that might provide high levels of satisfaction and satisfactoriness can result in the development of a postretirement career plan that enables the retiree to retain (or gain) vital involvement in life.

As is true for all theories, TWA has several limitations regarding its use in counseling interventions with retirees and individuals who are preparing to retire. First, research on TWA does not provide the practitioner with current and relevant information on reinforcers in today’s rapidly changing world of work (Zunker, 2002). In addition, and related to this concern, TWA does not provide or suggest an index to the patterns of abilities needed and the reinforcers provided by various volunteer and retirement pursuits (Zunker, 2002). The counselor will find it difficult to obtain organized and codified information on volunteer and retirement activities (Sharf, 2002). Although the Minnesota Occupational Classification System exists for classifying occupations, TWA does not provide a classification of nonwork activities, such as volunteer activities (Sharf, 2002).

The second major limitation for the counselor who uses TWA, or any other theory or approach, with this population relates to the changing and aging nature of the client (Sharf, 2002). The counselor should find or create ways to address the impact of the physical, mental, and social changes, mentioned earlier in this article, on the client’s choice of postretirement activities.

The research on career counseling with retirees and adults who are planning for retirement is sparse and needs to be extended. Research regarding the use of TWA in retirement counseling should focus on the impact of the use of TWA counseling on levels of satisfaction and satisfactoriness in postretirement work and on the adjustment to the losses and disequilibrium precipitated by retirement. Through further research concerning career counseling with retirees and adults planning for retirement, the counseling profession might be able to develop more well-defined interventions for working effectively with this population.


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Melanie C. Harper and Marie F. Shoffner, Department of Counseling and Educational Development, The University of North Carolina at Greenshoro. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Melanie C. Harper, Department of Counseling and Educational Development, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 228 Curry Building, Box 26171, Greenshoro, NC 27402-6171 (e-mail:

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