As seismic societal shifts go, the surge of people taking early retirement during and after the pandemic is one of them.    For some, this was due to ill health, for most, it was a lifestyle choice.  Covid shocked them to their core and awakened them to the fact that life is too damn short to be spending your days doing something you really don’t love.

At the time, although I applauded this ‘carpe diem’ attitude, I also had reservations.  You see, I know from experience that ‘retirement’ needs dedicated thought and careful planning well before you tell your boss you’re leaving and not coming back.  Even more so when you’re still young in body and mind.

And so, we ‘Unretire’

It comes as little surprise to me that right now, across the world, hundreds of thousands of people over the age of 55 who retired during the pandemic are going back to work.  Of course, many didn’t foresee the economic crisis, and their dwindling pensions and are doing this for financial reasons, but many others are looking for a more meaningful existence than the one they’ve lived for the past three years.

In the US, a survey by CNBC found that 68% of those who retired during the pandemic are considering going back to work and across the advanced economies, the economic participation rate for people aged 55 to 64 rebounded to 64.4% in 2021 fully reversing the pandemic-related decline.   Great news for governments and employers thrilled by this upsurge in economic activity – and are actively championing it, but can the same be said for ‘unretirees’?

Hell yes!

Few people realize that the retirement dream they’ve been sold all their lives is actually a fallacy.  You don’t (especially not these days) walk off into the sunset and live a life of decadent luxury.  Retirement is hard, one of the most difficult life adjustments we have to make.  Overnight you lose your sense of purpose and belonging, which impacts your identity, confidence, and self-esteem to the point that you end up not knowing who you really are.

Returning to work will not only help reverse this ‘demise’; done correctly, it will restore self-belief, fulfilment, and zest for life.  Now I know some of you will ask how this can be true when many people left jobs they didn’t really enjoy in a bid to find contentment elsewhere.  To those ‘unretirees’ I say this: don’t jump back into the same job or industry, take time to work out what it is you really want to do.  Find new meaning and purpose.  And don’t worry, as right now, help is very much at hand…

On to a good thing

I’m literally jumping for joy and singing ‘Hallelujah’ as I write this as older employees are finally being championed, and their experience valued.  It’s not that long ago that HR departments, and society as a whole, told them they were ready for the scrap heap.  Not anymore.  The tide is now turning in their favor with the realization that older workers have a critical role in addressing talent shortages.  The OECD reckons that GDP per capita could rise by 19% over the next 30 years simply by building multi-generational workforces and giving older workers more opportunities to work.

So, ahem, ‘desperate’ are businesses to recruit those of us with ‘life-experience’ they’re changing the way they advertise roles, and in some cases, even the ‘face’ of the organization.  One McDonald’s ad from last year featured Roland, a customer experience manager who shunned retirement in favor of a job with the fast-food chain.  Easy-jet saw visits to its careers site triple in response to a similar job ad targeted at over 55’s.  And AXA realized that it wasn’t going to find older talent in the same places and so it moved its recruitment focus from LinkedIn and Indeed to Facebook and ‘refer-your-friend’ schemes.

So that’s the ‘getting them in’ bit covered, but what happens when older workers move back into the workplace?  Well, companies are realizing that things have to change there too.  In the UK, the retail brand John Lewis has improved its attractiveness to older workers by allowing for reduced hours around caring responsibilities.  Saga has brought in grandparents leave, and the Phoenix Group is actively campaigning to raise awareness around the menopause.  Employers also seem to have woken up to the fact that the over 55’s may not want – or have to – work as hard as they once did and are bringing in ‘sub-bench’ schemes, where workers are paid a retainer and brought in when paid opportunities arise.  Unilever trialled this approach in the UK and has now adapted it across the globe.  And what’s more, they’re not just doing this for older workers, but for everyone, creating a more inclusive environment.

It’s win, win, win

So, you see if this ‘Great Unretirement’ is managed well, everyone wins.  The over-55s benefit from more flexible job opportunities and from being valued by employers and younger peers.  By working, they ‘protect’ their pensions and savings by not tapping into them until later in life and because they don’t need 40+ hours of employment a week, they have time to start finding fulfilment and purpose in life outside work.   Governments and HR departments benefit from having a highly experienced pool of flexible workers to fill talent shortages.  And by taking on this group, they reduce economic inactivity, boosting GDP.

But for me, the key benefit is the monumental step forward in the battle against institutionalized ageism.  Multi-generational workforces combat the ingrained societal belief that older people are ‘past it’ and have little left to offer.  By working together, this ‘disconnect’ between old and young is reversed, everyone benefits, and what’s more, older workers start to feel valued, fulfilled, and full of purpose.  And that’s a win, win, win!  If you would like to see how I can help you plan your unretirement,  please get in touch.

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