Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Senior Health

Dimensions of Wellness - Part 6: Occupational Wellness

Consider how many times you have introduced yourself by saying your name and occupation, or have met someone where a question is asked such as "What do you do for a living?" Regardless of whether a person is an attorney, factory worker, plumber, teacher, homemaker, or nurse, one's occupation becomes inextricably connected to his/her identity. In fact, our occupation tends to influence who we socialize with, the clothing we wear, and even the neighborhood we call home.

For some people, retirement is a chance to enjoy the 'Golden Years', traveling and treating them-selves to the hard earned good life. Many people view retirement as a chance to pursue a job that aligns with personal interests, give back through volunteer work, and enjoy a source of fulfillment. For others, work is a necessity for survival.

Recent headlines in the media talk about 'Encore Careers' and 'The New Retirement'. Call it what you will, many baby boomers and older adults are reinventing the meaning and purpose of their retirement years.


Even though older adults are known for a strong work ethic, our society tends to bestow higher status and place greater value on people who are employed over those who are unemployed, regardless of their past work.

Components of Occupational Wellness

Wellness through occupation or vocation involves using one's unique skills/talents in work that:

As health care and social services professionals, we can not underestimate the value of an occupation on a person's sense of worth. Older adults who are especially vulnerable to the risks of losses through retirement are those whose self-worth is based on their job or work life. Even though many mature workers look forward to having the time to pursue new opportunities as they retire, the transition from the formal employment role to traditional retirement role often compromises overall wellness.

As professionals working with older adults we understand the challenges and opportunities provided by retirement. It is incumbent on us to:

Risks to Wellness
- Losses in Retirement

  • Income
  • Identity/role
  • Status/authority
  • Structure/schedule
  • Purpose in life
  • Peer contacts2

The gerontology literature is replete with discussions focused on ways that boomers and older adults may choose to engage in productive aging activities that promote health and wellness. Even the National Governors Association reports that many states recognize that "Engaging older adults through meaningful volunteer activities is one way states can promote wellness while also realizing benefits for communities and businesses."3

Renowned gerontologist, Robert Butler, defines productive aging as occurring when older people engage in "voluntary as well as paid contributions to society and, at its most basic, continuing self-care".4 The following are examples of productive aging activities that harness talents and skills:

As we attempt to assist seniors to transition from one work role to different types of work that meet their needs and needs of others, we may wish to have seniors reflect on the words of Winston Churchill: "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give."



  1. Hettler, B. Six Dimensions of Wellness: Occupational Wellness. 
  2. Miller, C. (2009). Nursing for Wellness in Older Adults. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  3. Issue Brief. Increasing Volunteerism Among Older Adults: Benefits and Strategies for States.(2008). National Governors Assn Center for Best Practices. 
  4. Butler, R. (2002). The study of productive aging. Journals of Gerontology. Psychological and Social Services. 57:S323

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

For more information:

Go to the Senior Health health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Mar 10, 2009

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati