10 Ways to Make Your Coworker's Retirement Memorable

From Throwing a Party to Buying a Gift, Here Are Some Great Ideas

retirement dinner with candles and waiter pouring wine
••• Retirement Celebrations Are as Individual as the Employee. Seth Joel/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Retirement is a big deal. Retirement marks the start of another chapter in an employee’s life. Retirement marks the end of a career or the start of a new one. A retirement is a life event that changes every day that the retiring employee experiences.

And, retirement changes relationships, customary patterns, and coworker interactions. You can make your coworker's retirement memorable, for both the coworker and the employees who remain.

The retirement of a valued coworker sparks mixed emotions. On the one hand, you are happy and excited about your coworker’s next chapter. On the other, you are sad and just a bit melancholy at the prospect of losing your daily time and interaction. 

Roads diverge when your coworker enters retirement and your future time together is difficult to envision or predict. Retirement brings expected and unexpected doors that open that are not easily predictable. Even people who retire with a plan can change their minds and take a path in a never envisioned direction. You cannot affect the retiree's future plans.

But, you can affect the present. You can make your coworker’s transition into retirement memorable and exciting. Make retirement a time for reminiscing, celebration, and appreciation.

Plan and implement retirement memories for your coworker. Knowing your coworker and his or her tastes will help you select events and opportunities that your coworker will most appreciate as he or she approaches retirement.

Celebrate Your Coworker’s Retirement

Plan a party for your coworker’s retirement. A low key event in the late afternoon or evening, or even at lunch, should reflect your coworker’s wishes. Ask your retiring coworker—don’t surprise him or her. Maybe a lunch with coworkers will please while a dinner event is embarrassing and too much. If you know your coworker well, you will know how the individual will react to an event planned to recognize their retirement.

Give a retirement card, signed by everyone in the office. A card is always appropriate. The card will bring memories and allows everyone, even coworkers who don’t know the individual well, to participate in saying good-bye.

Plan a retirement gift. Coworkers can purchase gifts on their own, although you might want to coordinate to avoid duplicate gifts. Many coworkers, though, pool their money to offer the retiring coworker a couple of memorable presents. (Remember the most important maxim about office collections: they must always be voluntary. People who know your coworker the best will want to contribute to the retirement gift.)

Gifts related to travel, your coworker’s favorite hobbies, or company memorabilia and logoed gifts fit the bill for retirement gifts. A golf shirt, coffee mug, travel tote, or sweater with the company name and/or logo are always appreciated.

Remember that the objective is retirement—office accouterments are not allowed. Talk to your coworker about retirement plans so your gifts are appropriate and will be appreciated.

Personalize a retirement gift. If time allows, in addition to any other retirement gift, create a memory book or scrapbook with pictures of coworkers over the years, paraphernalia from company events and activities, and written thoughts and memories from coworkers. Each coworker can make their own page or approach the retirement project like an autograph book.

While other gifts may lay on a closet shelf, a memory book is always appreciated. In retirement, a memory book will bring back the good times shared by all.

Plan a retirement event for their closest coworkers. In addition to any public event, coordinate a lunch for coworkers who are closest to the retiring friend. The lunch is a time for cementing friendships, sharing retirement plans, and reminiscing.

Present an official company thank you and service award. Establish a tradition within your company to acknowledge an employee’s retirement with an official company gift. Yes, the gold company watch was worn and appreciated during retirement.

The mantle clock or engraved plaque held places of honor in the employee’s retirement home. Pick an award that reminds the employee of your company or industry. Honor retiring employees with their award at a brief ceremony with refreshments.

Prepare a brief presentation about the employee’s career highlights. Given at the goodbye event or the official company presentation of the service award, the speech should briefly overview the employee’s contributions and achievements.

Funny stories and warm memories are a crucial component of a goodbye presentation. Humor is welcome, as is brevity. (This is a tougher task when the employee has worked for a variety of employers over his or her career.)

Depending on the personality and wishes of the retiring employee, you can make this presentation less formal; ask a number of coworkers to speak or fashion the format as an outrageous roast.

Film a retirement video. Film the events that you hold for your coworker’s retirement. The video will provide one more memory of the time spent with valued coworkers at the office.

Produce a company memory. The key is to produce a memory that will not require a lot of space. For example, some workplace coworkers have written memories on a 40-foot banner that graced the coworker’s retirement party. The banner offered lots of memories of special moments and best wishes for a happy future in retirement. But, retrospectively, the banner has probably never been opened since the night of the party.

On a personal note, a client group celebrated the end of our consulting engagement with a hand-written poem on a plaque. They also, creatively and with a lot of fun, put together ten 3’x4’ posters with memories of our time together spelled out in candy bars and boxes.

Think: Our work with you has produced Good & Plenty results and lots of Snickers, Chuckles, and a Bit ‘o Honey, too. Yes, that was my gift—and I loved it—then.) While I treasured it at the time and photographed it, the posters later lay on a shelf until mice got into them. The plaque still sits on my desk.

So, consider an official memory such as a professionally taken photograph of the retiring coworker and his or her office mates. This is a retirement favorite idea, but other possibilities are limited only by your coworker’s preferences, your office traditions, and your imagination.

Hold a retirement transition meeting with HR staff. Similar to the material covered in the employment ending checklist, the retirement transition meeting formally ends the employment relationship. At the meeting, HR staff should work with the retiring employee so that benefits, 401(k) plans, pensions, health insurance and whatever else must be considered for retirement is handled while the employee is still present in your workplace.