It's been six months now since I officially retired, waving farewell to my RLB colleagues and handing the baton over to others.
Now that I have relinquished the day job, numerous friends and family have asked me whether I've lost my sense of purpose. Have I forgotten all the skills and experience I had honed over my career? And was the transition from working life to retirement as smooth as I hoped it would be?
I always believed I was one of the lucky ones when it came to work. I didn't just find a job, but a passion. It gave me an opportunity to work on projects ranging from school extensions to major urban regeneration schemes, and led me to roles including global chair and UK board member of RLB.
I also acted as a strategic adviser for the Construction Leadership Council and the Construction Innovation Hub, working on ground-breaking industry initiatives such as the Procuring for value report and the Value Toolkit.
The built environment has been my lifeblood for the past four decades. So, I knew retirement was not just going to involve stepping away, but finding new avenues for my skills and experience.
I was privileged that I had an employer in RLB who helped me prepare for retirement and allowed me to go into it gradually.
Over the last 18 months of my official working life, I reduced my hours from full time to four days, then two-and-a-half days a week. This allowed plenty of time to hand over projects completely and thoroughly to others.
My role fell into three main areas – global board, external representation of the organisation and internal governance. Rather than replacing me with a single individual these roles were shared among other directors, who in turn relinquished some of their internal management roles to the senior leadership team.
This happened over about a year and involved others shadowing me for a period of time. The upshot of this was a smooth handover, with real opportunities for growth created further down the organisation.
As well as easing myself out of the office, I also decided to get used to not working on my days off. This not only meant not checking emails or taking that surprise call, but also doing something unrelated to work so I could get used to having a structure that didn't depend on it.
It helped that many of those around me are also at the same life stage as myself, so I become part of a cohort of retirees, many which were friends or colleagues I had known previously, and of course including my husband.
People recommended having conversations about the simple things: for instance, as a couple, we talked about our financial, legal and official documents, making sure we know where all of these are, along with any passwords to access them online. We also worked out how much time we planned to spend together, and how much on our own activities.
When it came to those activities, I vowed to myself that I would only take on a new role if it were something that genuinely aligned with my values and my skill set, where I could be of actual benefit and would not just be a token industry voice on a project.
Because your networks don't retire when you do, it wasn't long before I was approached in relation to two non-executive roles that, as I joked with my husband, now see me working on the most affordable and most expensive properties in London – respectively, for the Peabody Trust housing association and on the Buckingham Palace reservicing programme – challenge board, which challenges and acts as a critical friend to the team that are delivering the reservicing programme.
The Peabody Trust met all these criteria – its organisational tenets are ones I admire, my social housing background and leadership experience complement the skill sets of its staff, and I feel that I am making a contribution to its board and development and asset management committees.
Being involved for a couple of days a month allows me to have a positive effect on the organisation, while not placing major time constraints on me.
The second non-executive position came as a surprise. I wasn't particularly in the market for any further roles, so when the name of a former associate who is a senior civil servant popped up on my phone, he had to convince me to hear him out.
The reservicing of Buckingham Palace is a ten-year programme to make the building fit for purpose for the next 50 years, and is already halfway through. My role, alongside other senior stakeholders, is to provide oversight and ensure that the programme is undertaken in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.
The palace's electrical cabling, plumbing and heating have not been updated since the 1950s, and require major modernisation. Added to this the palace contents include priceless works of art, and as part of the role I get to work alongside the master of the king's household who is ultimately responsible for the Palace's Reservicing Programme. All in all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that even retirement couldn't stop me from taking up.
'I vowed to myself that I would only take on a new role if it were something that genuinely aligned with my values and my skill set'
If you are lucky like me, retirement will be as fulfilling and rewarding as work and you won't feel like hanging up your hard hat at all.
I've found it's important to think of the end of your career in the same way as the beginning of it: ask yourself what you need financially, emotionally and practically to survive. If you prepare in advance and take advice from others, you can be open to new challenges – as I have been.
Ann Bentley FRICS is a non-executive director at the Peabody Trust and former global chair of RLB