What is the Etiquette for a Retirement Party? 15 Honest Truths

by Sarah De Winne

Knowing and following the etiquette for a retirement party will give you confidence when planning a retirement party either as a host or if attending a retirement party as a guest.  There is nothing more embarrassing than making a social blunder at an important event so read on to learn the 15 top truths about the etiquette for a retirement party!

Current etiquette for a retirement party still reflects some deep-rooted, traditional customs that form part of other social celebrations.  These include delivering a speech, making a toast, and giving a gift.  Save that, today’s retirement parties take many diverse forms with few social constraints.

Retirement-Party-Toast
Retirement-Party-Toast

This detailed post will provide you with the truths about the traditional etiquette for a retirement party by answering commonly asked questions which will inform and reassure you.  In addition, we will provide you with other ideas to consider and include when planning a retirement party to make sure your celebration is successful, memorable, and fun.

Your Questions Answered – Truths about the Etiquette for a Retirement Party

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the etiquette for a retirement party, let’s start at the beginning with a clear definition of what retirement party etiquette means.

Truth 1: What is Retirement Party Etiquette?

Retirement Party etiquette refers to the traditional rules and customs associated with hosting and attending a retirement party.  Your interest in etiquette will vary depending on your role in the social situation. 

Retirement-Party-Rules
Retirement-Party-Rules

For example, when planning a formal or informal retirement party, hosts are more likely to be concerned with respecting traditional customs.  Whereas guests attending the retirement party will be more interested in respecting any dress codes and giving an appropriate retirement gift.

Truth 2: When Should a Retirement Party be Held?

A retirement party should be held as close to the date of retirement as possible to have maximum relevance and meaning for the retiree.  After all, a retirement party celebrates the end of the retiree’s working life, so it makes perfect sense for the celebration to happen near the actual retirement date.

Retirement-Party-Date
Retirement-Party-Date

If the retirement party is held too far in advance, the retiree’s actual date of retirement will be a bit of a washout as the send-off has already happened!  Similarly, if the retirement party is held too late, the retiree will have mentally moved on from work and started their retirement plans.

Ideally, it is best to hold a corporate or office retirement party either during or at the end of the working day.  This will enable co-workers to attend the event easily with minimum disruption to their personal lives.

Empty-WorkPlace
Empty-WorkPlace

However, holding the retirement party on the weekend is a great choice if it is being held at home or at another venue.  A weekend retirement celebration will enable the maximum number of guests to attend the retirement party and allow enough time for those guests who need to make travel arrangements.

Truth 3: How Long Should a Retirement Party Last?

There are no set rules about how long a retirement party should last.  However, on average, a retirement party will probably last 2-3 hours.  Ultimately, the duration of the retirement party will depend on whether it is a formal or informal event and whether it is held over lunch or during the evening.

Length-of-Retirement-Party
Length-of-Retirement-Party

Truth 4: Who Usually Throws a Retirement Party?

Traditionally, a retirement party would have been organised by the workplace.  After all, retirement is a milestone celebration signifying the end of the retiree’s working life. 

Retirement-Party-Host
Retirement-Party-Host

However, it is now common practice for several retirement parties to be thrown by different individuals connected to the retiree.  Today, retirement parties are frequently organised by work, a spouse, a close family member or friend or, indeed, the retiree themselves.

Truth 5: Who Pays for a Retirement Party?

Generally, the person hosting the retirement party pays for the celebration.  This could be a corporate workplace, spouse, close family member or friend or the retiree themselves.  However, it is becoming more commonplace for the cost of retirement parties to be shared given the current economic climate. 

Paying-for-the-Retirement-Party
Paying-for-the-Retirement-Party

As with other workplace celebrations, companies may allocate a sum of money towards the cost of a corporate retirement party and then ask guests to top-up with personal contributions.  Similarly, the cost of private retirement parties held at home or at another venue may be shared between close family members and the retiree or even friends.

Truth 6: Who Do You Invite to the Retirement Party?

When deciding who to invite to the retirement party, it is important to consult the retiree about the guest list unless it is a surprise party.  It is usual to invite the retiree’s boss, co-workers, close family members and friends to the retirement party.  The guest list could also be extended to include significant co-workers from the retiree’s previous workplaces.

Guest-Welcome-Drinks
Guest-Welcome-Drinks

Of course, the size of the guest list will inevitably be determined by the retirement party budget.  If you need help planning a retirement party on a budget, click here to read our article which has lots of practical ideas and tips.

Truth 7: How Far in Advance Do You Send Out Retirement Party Invitations?

It is customary for retirement party invitations to be sent out approximately 4-6 weeks in advance of the date of the retirement party.  This will ensure that most guests are available for the retirement party and enable them to save the date in their personal calendars.

Retirement-Party-Invitation
Retirement-Party-Invitation

In addition to details about the date, time, and venue of the retirement party, the retirement party invitation should include information about any dress code or retirement party theme.  Make sure you also add an RSVP date so that you can finalise numbers to help you plan the retirement party food and drink.

Truth 8: What is Expected at a Retirement Party?

At a retirement party it is expected that there will be:

Retirement-Party-Speech
Retirement-Party-Speech

The etiquette for a retirement party is that guests also give a retirement gift but giving money should be avoided (see Truths 9, 10 and 11 below).  It is also customary to give a retirement card.  Our easy-to-follow guide has 55 retirement card messages if you need some inspiration about what to write in a retirement card. 

It is also expected that a retirement party should be a joyful event to celebrate the end of the retiree’s working life and to recognise their achievements.  Guests should be happy and socialise, leaving workplace grievances and family problems to one side for the occasion.

Retirement-Party-Expectations
Retirement-Party-Expectations

If you are responsible for planning the retirement party, our other helpful posts will be of interest to you:

Truth 9: Are You Supposed to Give a Gift at a Retirement Party?

Yes, it is customary to give a gift at a retirement party.  This could be an individual gift or a collective gift either with co-workers or amongst close family members or friends.

Retirement-Party-Gift
Retirement-Party-Gift

The amount of money you spend on a retirement gift will depend on how well you know the retiree.  To find inspirational retirement gift ideas to suit all budgets and professions, click here to access our hand-picked selection.

Truth 10: What is an Appropriate Gift for Someone Retiring?

An appropriate gift for someone retiring could be an experience that they will remember like an annual pass to a National Park, a spa day, sailing lessons or a wine club membership.  When we buy a gift, we tend to revert to giving an object.  If we are honest, we all have homes full of unwanted stuff so perhaps it is time to get more creative and more original in our gift buying.

National-Park-Retirement-Gift
National-Park-Retirement-Gift

However, an appropriate gift for someone retiring should be a well-chosen gift that reflects the retiree’s:

  • Personality.
  • Likes and dislikes.
  • Hobbies and interests.
  • Plans after retirement.

Rather than each guest buying an individual gift, it is also appropriate to open an online collection for guests to contribute however much they wish.  The great benefit of a collective gift is that you can buy the retiree something much more meaningful or useful thanks to a larger budget.

Truth 11: Do You Give Money at a Retirement Party?

Giving money is not good etiquette for a retirement party.  Although there are no set rules to say you cannot give money at a retirement party, money is not the most original or thoughtful retirement party gift.

Money-for-Retirement-Gift
Money-for-Retirement-Gift

If you do not know the retiree very well, you could choose to give them a gift card as a retirement party gift.  However, it would be better to open an online collection and combine contributions from guests to buy a more memorable and personal gift (see Truth 10).

Truth 12: What Should a Guest Wear to a Retirement Party?

What a guest wears to a retirement party will depend on whether the invitation mentions a dress code or a retirement party theme.  If there is a retirement party theme, you may be asked to dress accordingly.  If it’s a casino night theme, dig out your tux, formal evening wear and sparkly jewelry to make a glamorous entrance. 

Retirement-Party-What-to-Wear
Retirement-Party-What-to-Wear

Other typical dress codes for a retirement party include casual, semi-formal or dressy casual, beach formal, cocktail attire, formal attire or Black-Tie optional, Black-Tie, White-Tie.  To be the best dressed guest at the retirement party and for detailed information about what to wear for each dress code, you can access our free guide to What to Wear to a Retirement Party here.

If the retirement party has no dress code or theme, then it is best to wear clothes that will make you feel relaxed, comfortable, and confident.

Truth 13: What to Wear to an Outdoor Retirement Party?

If you are attending an outdoor retirement party, the first consideration is to wear footwear that can cope with grass, sand, or other soft floor surfaces.  An outdoor retirement party could be formal or casual so check out the dress code on the invitation, then head to our other post here to help you decide exactly what to wear.  Cotton or linen clothes will be cool in the heat and remember a hat if you are spending time in the sun.

Outdoor-Retirement-Party
Outdoor-Retirement-Party

Truth 14: Should a Retirement Party Be a Surprise?

It is most likely that a workplace retirement party will not be a surprise for the retiree (see Truth 6).  This is because the retiree will probably be involved in agreeing a date, compiling the guest list, and planning the party to match their wishes.

However, if you know the retiree well, there is no reason why a retirement party cannot be a surprise party.

Retirement-Party-Surprise
Retirement-Party-Surprise

Truth 15: Is it Rude to Not Want a Retirement Party?

It is rude to not want a retirement party in some circumstances.  If your workplace or loved one wants to throw a retirement party for you, it is rude to decline their offer.  After all, they are making the effort to celebrate this important milestone in your life.

However, if you are retiring and are responsible for hosting and funding your own retirement party, then it is not rude to not want a retirement party.  A retirement party is a personal choice and perhaps you would rather spend the money on something else.

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