Quiet quitting might get all the headlines these days, but there’s another silent movement going on in offices around the country these days: Quiet returning.
The Indeed Hiring Lab in March 2022 reported that 3.2% of people who said they were retired a year earlier had returned to work, a notable increase from the 2.1% average in June 2020. That’s about 1.7 million people who have headed back.
Given that so much of the modern workforce is transitioning to other jobs or walking away from the ones they have, that might seem surprising, but the trend is actually one that started long before the pandemic.
“This is a trend that was paused during COVID, but has returned. Research by Aging & Society showed that approximately 25% of retirees unretired, with about half ‘reverse-retiring’ in the first five years of retirement,” says Joe Casey, managing partner at Retirement Wisdom, a Princeton, NJ-based retirement coaching firm.
For some people, the decision to unretire is financial. Increasing costs of living or big bills have them facing financial hardship and they have no choice. But others, and likely more than you’d expect, simply found that the non-working world just didn’t suit them.
The camaraderie, status and sense of purpose that comes with having a job was something they missed. In fact, a recent survey by JobList found that 60% of unretirees say that they are primarily “looking for something to do,” and 53% say they are happy about going back to work.
“Some people discover that their 401(k) was better prepared for retirement than they were,” says Casey. “We don’t stop growing once we retire and there are many ways to learn and grow once you retire, but it requires being willing to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. Some people shy away from that and find it easier to return to what they know well—and can get paid for.”
While retirees might be looking to get back to work, that doesn’t mean they’re eager to re-embrace the 9-5 slog. The JobList survey found 79% of retirees are looking for part-time jobs, while only 6% are looking for full-time work and 16% are open to either. And when it comes to remote work vs. on site, there’s no definitive preference. While 41% say they’d prefer in-person and 9% say they only want remote, the rest say they’re open to either.
“What people at all stages of their career, including late career and retirement, value highly is flexibility,” says Casey. “Many people are looking at creative ways to work with greater flexibility, including more off-ramps and return-ramps.”
Unretirement is a trend that’s not likely to end soon. The soaring rate of inflation and recent market plunges are certain to challenge more retirement savings plans. And with so many people choosing to retire during the pandemic, boredom will set in for some.
Beyond that, some employers are beginning to recognize the advantages of bringing on highly skilled and experienced older workers. While ageism remains a problem at many companies, smart ones realize these unretirees can help educate the younger workforce in ways that traditional training methods never could.
The bigger question, though, is how long will these workers stay in the jobs? After all, retirement was appealing once. It ultimately will be again. On average, unretirees stay at their new jobs for at least a few years.
According to JobList, 51% say they want to work for at least three years and 14% target one to two years. Only 2% plan to return to work for less than a year. The remaining 33%? They’re not sure how long they’ll work again.
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