What Is Unretirement in HR?


Unretirement has been making headlines recently. Unretired refers to those who return to the workforce after having tried retirement for a while. In fact, 2.4 million of the 4.2 million people who left the workforce had retired at the start of the pandemic. And 1.5 million retirees have re-entered the U.S. labor market in the past year, according to the Post Reports, a May 2022 podcast by the Washington Post.  

How Did This Happen? 

When people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s retired during the pandemic, they did so for a number of reasons. One-third left to tend to their health, 20% said they did not want to work anymore, and 12% had to care for a family member, according to the CNBC All-America Economic Survey.

Nearly 70% of respondents, who had retired, said they would consider a job under the right circumstances. The most common criteria for considering a return to the workforce was flexible hours, pay, and work-life balance. Most said they preferred part-time work. 

“The U.S. labor market has a people problem: There simply aren’t enough workers available to take the jobs employers want to fill,” according to CBS News in April 2022. “That’s partly due to a trend hastened by the pandemic that is continuing apace even as the economy returns to normal: Americans are retiring in droves.”

What Does This Mean for HR Leaders? 

For HR leaders, this group of people is a goldmine of talent. They are experienced, reliable, and motivated. This is especially attractive to employers, who have been burned by the Great Resignation. Once upon a time, ageism would prevent employers from calling upon seniors and those who had chosen retirement. However, a tight labor market and more awareness of age discrimination are changing minds. 

READ: Can HR Capitalize on Resignation Remorse?

Some HR leaders are calling retired alumni to convince them to return to work. Some of the retired people are reconsidering their decision and looking to rejoin the workforce. The following reasons are motivating the unretired, according to the Post Reports: 

  • Restless
  • Heartened by what employers did to woo them
  • Rising healthcare costs
  • Rising gas and food prices
  • Fear of running out of money in retirement

READ: Are HR Leaders Facing a Recession? 

Welcoming the Unretired Back to Work

When the unretired go back to work, they are not always picking up where they left off. They are returning to jobs that are related to their previous roles but may give them more flexibility. An example the Post shared is teachers becoming education consultants. 

Many of the same principles related to employee engagement strategies apply with the unretired. Even if they want to return to work because they want a sense of purpose, they do not want to infringe on their mental health and wellness. They prefer flexibility and work-life balance initiatives. By all accounts, they are looking for cultures focused on wellbeing and appreciating the dues they have already paid. 

Still, unfortunately, some of the unretired had no choice but to return to work. Inflation and the rising cost of living have made it impossible for them to survive as retirees. 

“Perfectly laid plans no longer hold,” says Abha Bhattarani, economics correspondent for the Washington Post in the podcast. “Things are changing quickly.”  

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio for Pexels

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