UnRetirement – The Facts

I had an interesting podcast interview tonight on “The Retirement Conversation”. (Stay tuned, I’ll share when published).  Among many other things, we talked about how many retirees go back to work.

We talked about UnRetirement.

And we talked about the reasons why.

Earlier today, coincidently, I received an e-mail on the same topic from a reader (thanks Skip, I love the exchange with readers!).  Skip sent me a NYT article titled “Many Americans Try Retirement, Then Change Their Mind.”, and suggested I may want to consider writing a post about it.  I read it, and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since.

UnRetirement has hit me twice in 6 hours. It's time to write about it, and figure out Why folks go back to work. Click To Tweet

Two occurrences, on the same subject, in the past 6 hours.

Coincidence? 

Methinks not and, with “UnRetirement” on my mind, I’ve decided to write about it today.  Although I’ve no plans to UnRetire, let me state this clearly and up front.  There is no judgment in this post. I’m simply seeking to understand, and I understand that many folks decide to go back to work for reasons that make sense to them.  I’m good with that.  Perhaps some of you readers are UnRetired, and can help us understand?


UnRetirement

I suspect most of us have some questions about UnRetirement.  For example, why do so many folks go back to work after they “Retire”?  How many folks actually UnRetire?  Why do they do it?  Do they need the money, or is it something else?  It’s a relevant topic, and I’m intrigued by it.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  With only 58 days until I cross the starting line into Retirement, I trust you can understand why it’s on my mind:

I don’t want to UnRetire.

I’ve decided to do a bit of research for this post, to answer the questions in my mind about UnRetirement.  I want to learn all I can, to understand the phenomenon, to think about things I can do to ensure we apply any lessons from those who have gone before.

Worthy content, methinks.

So I write.


How Popular Is UnRetirement?

Type the term “How many people go back to work after retirement” into Google, and you’ll get over 4 Million results!  Don’t believe me?  I just did it – here’s the proof:



It seems, perhaps, that 4 Million People have an interest in this topic (um, that may not be right.  Google results don’t equal people, right?).  Whatever.  It’s a popular topic.  While I’m certainly no expert (see my Legal Stuff page), I figured folks would be interested in what I’ve found on the topic after reading those 4,200,000 links on the topic.

No, I didn’t do that.

Rather, the points below are summarized from the NYT article referenced above, along with a few articles I found while researching this topic.  The findings are interesting, so I’m sharing them with you today, along with my thoughts on what it all means.

The Facts On UnRetirement

According to the NYT article, following are The Facts On UnRetirement (See the full story for references):

  • UnRetirement is becoming more common.
  • More than 25% of retirees later resumed working/became UnRetired.
  • 40% of Workers over Age 65 had, previously, retired.
  • Those over Age 65 who are employed has climbed from 12.8% to 18.8% in 16 years.
  • Half of the folks over Age 50 who weren’t looking for work said they’d go back for the right job.
  • The decision to go back to work is usually not driven by financial issues.

My friends over at NewRetirement also published an article titled “Reverse Retirement: Find Out Why So Many Retirees Are Going Back To Work”.  In that piece, they state that over the next 10 years, the labor force growth rate of the 65- to 74-year-old age group is expected to be about 55% compared to a 5% rate for the labor force as a whole.

The trend toward UnRetirement is clear, and supported by the facts.


WHY UnRetirement?

“You hear certain themes”, says Dr. Maestas in the NYT article.  Among them:

  • A Sense Of Purpose
  • Using Your Brain
  • Social Engagement

Financial considerations, it turns out, are not a primary driver for most people who decide to go back to work.  Sure, the money’s nice, but it’s the “softer” issues which drive most people back into the workplace.  Rather than being driven by the money, folks who UnRetire typically look for jobs which provide meaning and stimulation.

I’ve written and studied a LOT about retirement over the past 3 years (quick side note:  Happy Birthday, Blog.  April 12th marked your 3rd year of existence.  It’s been a great ride, and I thank each of you for coming along).  One theme I see repeated over and over again is the importance of the “softer” side of retirement planning.

The consistent finding of the importance of the non-financial aspects has led me to write half my articles on financial issues, and half my articles on “softer” issues.  The “soft stuff” is important, and I urge you not to overlook it as you plan for, or live in, your own retirement.


How To Avoid UnRetirement

As I read about the reasons that folks UnRetire, I thought about the apparent reasons people go back to work.

If Purpose, Challenge & Connection lead to UnRetirement, can we find a way to meet those needs without work? Click To Tweet

For those of us hoping to not UnRetire, is it worth spending time in our final days of work (or early days of retirement) to think about ways we can find Purpose, Challenge & Social Engagement in places other than work?

As I chased down that line of thinking, I did another Google Search.  It seems “How To Find Purpose In Life” is an even more popular search topic than “UnRetirement”, with 36 Million results coming up for that search.  I went down a rabbit hole with some of those results, interesting reading and potential fodder for future posts.  If nothing else, ask yourself these 10 questions to help you find your Purpose.


The Bottom Line

UnRetirement is clearly here to stay, and I’ve got no problem with it if that’s what you choose to do.  For each his own.  Nothing wrong with that.  Your Life.  Your Choice.  However, if you’re finding your retirement unfulfilling, don’t automatically assume that returning to work is the best way to cure what ails you.  Take some time to think about all of your options, before you jump back into work.

There are ways to find Purpose without going back to work.

There are ways to Challenge Yourself without going back to work.

There are ways to build Social Engagement without going back to work.

I’d encourage anyone facing this decision to take a half hour with a blank sheet of paper. Brainstorm some ideas that come to mind.  Consider writing a blog (it checks all 3 of those boxes for me).  Volunteer for some charity work.  Find a way to “give back”.  Start a new hobby.  Join a gym.  Take a class. Your list will likely be long.  Pick a few, and try them out.

If nothing else, do a few Google searches before you decide to go back to work.  Just be forewarned, you’ll find a lot to think about.  There are times in Life when it’s worth going down a few rabbit holes.

UnRetirement may be one of those times.

 


PS – If you’ve UnRetired, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  Why did you UnRetire?  Are you happy with the decision?  Any advice for those walking a few years behind you?  Please share, if you’re willing.  Together, let’s Help People Achieve A Great Retirement.

40 comments

  1. Great post Fritz. My current part-time semi-retirement is keeping me engaged in my job, but I can see why many would “unretire”.

    It’s my hope that when I fully retire I’ll have enough challenging things lined up. Lord knows I have enough (to many) hobbies – I could stay busy forever on things I love to do. But having a hard challenge is also important. Sure, I climb hard mountains, but I know I’ll still need intellectual hard challenges in retirement.

    I hope to start a business or grow a side hustle to the point where it’s mostly passive, but at the same time is intellectually challenging, and also makes a little bit of income. That’s a tough triumvirate to shoot for but for me it’s the sweet spot!

    1. AF, part-time semi-retirement seems a pretty good way to go. I like your ideas of how you’ll keep fulfilled when you reach full retirement. For the record, I don’t see “starting a business” or “side hustle” as UnRetirement. Rather, I think they should be viewed as Challenges you’re making for yourself in retirement. Good luck with your plan! Sweet Spot, indeed!

  2. Some folks un-retire to feel significant. It’s not quite the same as being driven by a purpose. A purpose gives you something to strive for and accomplish whereas the craving for significance relates more to self-esteem.

    I’m not heading for unretirement but once we’re settled in at our new home, I’d like to get more involved in community activities. We’ve kept mainly to ourselves here since our town is predominantly booming with younger families with children.

    1. “Some folks un-retire to feel significant.”

      Oh yes dead on Mrs Groovy. For some people, they don’t know their purpose but they know they’re missing something so experiment of stumbling around is involved.

    2. Great point about “Significance”, Mrs. G. No doubt there can be a lot of self-esteem impact when a person retires, good addition to the discussion. Good luck with the move, I’m enjoying reading your weekly updates about the move. It’ll be nice when all this is behind you, and you can increase your community involvement.

      1. When I announced my retirement at 49, my law firm chairman was completely befuddled. He told me that he could not imagine not being an attorney. This is someone who has hobbies and interests outside of the firm, so I think what he was really saying that he couldn’t imagine giving up the prestige and respect that goes along with being a top litigator and chair of a large international firm.

        Needless to say, I had different priorities. I’ve only been retired for a month, so maybe I’ll feel differently at some point, but there are lots of opportunities to get involved in our community so I can’t foresee getting bored.

  3. I’m 36 and retirement is something which I’m not thinking at the moment… my goal is to be able to work with a passion for until I am gone… I’m in a position now where I do most of the work which I love doing…

    1. CT, you’re fortunate to be in a job you love. I was in the same position at your age. Unfortunately, many folks find their jobs less fulfilling as they age, and it’s good to take preparation while still “young-ish” to give you the opportunity to do something else in your later years, if you so choose.

  4. Fritz, very interesting Timing! I recently “unretired”. I actually think retirement is a bad word. Financial independence is a better word. It means you no longer have to work for money and have the freedom to do whatever you like. Some of those things can be volunteering, grow a blog, travel, work on a project. Some of those things happen to be in a work environment for pay. FI allows you to be very selective and only work on things you really care about.

    I started a “project” for pay in a small company because I believe in their mission and product and wanted to experience small company after spending a full career in a Fortune 50. I had plenty of interests and potential hobbies yet to be explored but decided this is a “hobby” (aka job) that is a priority.

    One of the “conditions “ of taking on this “hobby” is that I can still go on our planned national park trips, my other, more traditionally associated with retirement hobby.

    With the choice FI provides, “work” takes on an entirely new flavor. If it stopped being fun, I stop. No more careers to advance. No more putting up with BS. What’s the worst that can happen? Getting fired?

    1. Our first “Un-Retiree” checks in! Great comments, Sidney, and I love your logic for returning to work. “I believe in their mission and wanted to experience a small company”. Great reasons, I hope you enjoy the experience! If not, the beauty is that you can always “Re-Retire”! Keep us posted – I’m enjoying your National Park series on your blog, and am happy to hear your current “hobby” allows you to continue your quest to visit each park!

  5. I think one thing that is often subliminal….if you get paid…it validates the worth of what you did.

    Not saying you can’t get validation otherwise….but often that which is free (your labor) isn’t valued unless there is a cost (to the recipient).

    I’ve seen that often in some of my medical work. If I give it away…often the recipient then goes to a “real doctor”…(paid)….

    Maybe that is a driver in this equation….

  6. It’s fun that this can go different ways for different folks. First off, I’m with you – not going back to work… ain’t happening! I’m excited to try my hand at different projects and interests, but there won’t be another 9-5 in my future!

    However, Mrs. R2R is already picturing herself doing volunteer work. Though not necessarily a traditional job, it’s still something she’s planning to do on a scheduled basis.

    My boss is one of those guys who will never retire. He created his company 40 years ago and it’s his life. If he left, he’d be the guy just sitting at home with nothing to do. He doesn’t really have a lot of hobbies or interests – the business is his hobby in a way. He’d be back to work in an instant.

    Definitely a “to each his (or her) own” type of scenario, but I’m surprised to hear how many people are interested in going back.

    — Jim

  7. I have also read many articles about “un-retirement” because it comes up when I do searches for retirement information. I also cannot understand why people do that. I will retire in 9 months at age 62 and I cannot envision ever going back to work. Once retired, I want to be doing what ever I want whenever I want and being stuck in an office, committed to coming in on a beautiful day would be the ultimate agony in my life. I just have too much fun stuff planned to do! I don’t understand who would want such a fixed commitment that prevents one from the Freedom that retirement offers.

    1. Georgia, congratulations on your pending retirement!! “I want to be doing whatever I want whenever I want”. Powerful words, and I share the sentiment, but I also respect folks who decide that going back to work is something they want to do. Freedom to choose how you spend your time is a wonderful thing, and the decision for how each of us will spend that time is something each of us must decide for ourselves.

  8. It is comforting to know that most people who unretire are not doing it because of financial reasons, so at least that is a step in the right direction. But I’d be curious to know of the percentage of people who return to work after a stint in retirement, how many actually find meaning and purpose in their job. And is it the act of having a job that gives them this satisfaction or are they actually interested/ committed to what they are doing? Sounds like you have some work to do Fritz. Good thing you will have some time on your hands in a few, errr 58, days.

  9. I found an even better job that is way more fun and interesting than when I as working, close to where I live, 2 afternoons a week, gives me a social network and pays me about $ 800 a month. The only downside is I am not free to travel or snow bird so I think I will take Dec-Jan off. I feel so fortunate. Yes I wanted some extra income but it has given me a new sense of purpose and job satisfaction that I did not know I had been missing.

    1. Our Second Un-Retiree in the comments! Great comment, Ann Kelly, and I’m happy you found something that is “way more fun and interesting”. Nothing better than feeling “so fortunate”! Thanks for stopping by and putting a smile on my face with your comment today!

  10. My husband and I have made about 40 Taiko drums since we left work, and charged nothing for our labor. We just helped our group and different members to get drums. Recently we made 25 tie dye shirts for the group and charged our cost, which was $5 a shirt. The last thing we want is a J-O-B, because we have done these projects at our own pace, in our own way and have involved other people, making friends along the way. If we went into business it would take that fun away, at least for us.

    Funny, we wore those tie dye shirts this last weekend at a big workshop and we got asked if we were selling them. Yep, just another thing we could do for 5 cents per hour!

    1. Great comment, Susan. I’d love to see a pic of one of those drums, sounds like a very cool hobby! Enjoy your retirement, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right (and congrats on your blog getting major kudos, you’re doing a great job with it!)

  11. Retirement is a big adjustment. IMO, the longer you work, the more difficult it will be to retire. You’re used to the structured lifestyle and it’s hard to adjust to an open schedule. 40 years of indoctrination is a long time.
    That’s why early retirement is a better option. 🙂 You have more time to figure it out.

  12. I’m not a blogger, but I did unretire in February after ‘retiring’ in late 2017 at 57. A former competitor of mine came to me with a business opportunity. I told them flexibility was more important than money. The leverage of being FI during the negotiations was powerful. They knew they needed me more than I needed them. Never even gave them a salary to shoot for. Their offer turned out to be twice what I would have taken, and the benefits were great, even at part time. My situation is a little different because my skills are in a very niche arena. Since I wasn’t looking for a job, the company knew they would have to entice me to go back to work.

    I absolutely loved the freedom from work, and never felt that I lacked purpose. I was always busy. I just felt that I would be tempting fate if I turned down this great opportunity to put us way over ‘our number’.

    1. Un-Retiree #3 joins the fun!! Having the power of leverage is a wonderful thing. I’m pleased to hear you used it to put yourself into a situation that you’re happy with. Get yourself “way over your number”, then take some time to detox – you’ve earned it!

  13. Great article Fritz and who would have thought “un-retirement” was a thing? I also enjoyed reading the comments from your readers who have “un-retired” and their rational for doing so, quite interesting indeed. As for me, there was a time I considered some offers which included big money and flexibility but so glad I turned them down. Enough truly is enough, for me anyway, I should have pulled the plug a few years sooner, I am praying there will be enough time to experience all the things on my ever growing bucket list. Time to hit the trail, will check in soon!!

  14. I think humans have an innate need to feel needed and wanted by the world. In a way, it’s like we “need” to work and be productive with our time. That’s why people often go back to work after retiring. They just don’t know what to do with all that spare time.

  15. This is a major concern for me, as I get closer.

    I know I will have the financial ability to “retire” at 56, but don’t think I will want to do the typical “sit on the beach” retirement. The question is, what will I do?

    Part of me wants it to be a second childhood, but part of me wants to do some serious work as well.

    1. You can consider doing something as a hobby/business. This seems pretty popular. It’s like running a business, but not entirely caring about how much a profit it makes. Just do something that you’ve always been passionate about.

  16. Nothing wrong with UnRetirement. In fact, one of the reasons I started blogging (happy anniversary, BTW) in the first place was because it would give me something to do once I retired and I wouldn’t need to UnRetire. So I knew blogging would take care of the purpose aspect of my retirement. I had no idea it would also take care of the brain-using and social engagement aspects of my retirement as well. Could it be that blogging is the most awesome avocation ever devised by man? Or have I been kicked in the head by a butterfly one too many times?

  17. Nailed it. And oh, so eloquently more than my feeble attempt yesterday. Ha!

    So many fail to consider the key benefits of their daily routine. Set aside the commute, the office politics, and the time away from family and nature. You still have quality people you work with (friends!) and some good learning challenges in those four walls.

  18. Great article Fritz!

    Although neither me nor Mrs. FMM are close to retiring, this topic definitely hits home in our current situation. Mrs. FMM is currently a nanny, and she is actively applying to re-enter the business world. She always wanted to work with children at some point in her life, so she got to experience that with the nanny job over the past couple years.

    The main reason she wants to get back in the business world is because of social interaction. Although she loves the children she watches, she misses being able to socialize with other adults routinely.

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Thanks for engaging your audience on the hot topic of “unretirement.” As a Life Transition Coach specializing in working with clients facing retirement, I help people find purpose and fulfillment after work. Your “black sheet of paper” suggestion will help some, but others need to dig a bit deeper to find a new purpose. I recommend taking steps to complete the work-to-life transition before making a decision to unretire. It takes time to explore new avenues. Ask for unbiased support to find your purpose, new challenges and a path to social connection. Thanks again for taking on this topic!

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