Retirement? Now That’s an Open-Ended Question

A generation ago, retirement was a hard stop—the end of the road for employees aged 65 and up, and the final word on work followed by an exclamation point. Today, it's an ellipsis ready to be paid off in various ways due to different circumstances.

For enterprise businesses, the open-ended proposition of retirement can mean many things. We look at several of them here.

Retirement: Tom Brady Style

Remember when Tom Brady retired from football? It lasted less than 40 days before he changed his mind and returned to work. This retirement—and unretirement—gets to the heart of one of human nature's biggest questions when it comes to working: what do I do now?

For those who've planned and prepared along the way, retirement is an easy transition to hobbies and activities they've put off for a career. But defining themselves outside of the work they've done for decades is more than a little unnerving for others.

So, giving Tom a pass (pun intended) for going back on his word is easy. But for those who don't make millions, live a life of riches and glamour, and have some plum opportunities to look forward to post work, it's more challenging to comprehend.

Reasons for Unretirement

The most obvious reason people unretire is that they can't afford to. Whether they failed to save enough or their financial situation changed, the prospect of a life without a regular paycheck became untenable. Under these circumstances, returning to work is usually the easiest way to cope financially.

But there are other reasons people unretire that have nothing to do with money. Boredom is one of them, and many "unretirees" have cited "not having to stare at four walls at home" as a primary motivation for returning to work.

Boredom can also spawn a more profound sense of loss, triggering a desire to continue doing something valuable. In a society that places high importance on work, it's easy to understand how the lack of it can erode one's sense of identity. Returning to work is instant validation and a self-esteem fix that's hard to resist.

Putting Retirement to Work

No matter how an employee retires or unretires, companies that recognize the value they still possess can benefit greatly. Here are just some ways your business can capitalize:

  • Give retired employees the option of consulting. 

A long-time employee's institutional knowledge can be a boon to those just joining the workforce. Tapping that expertise and positioning them as mentors helps your company and them feel good about themselves and their contributions.

  • Create a retiree advisory board

If you think one retiree can add value, consider what several of them might contribute when you create a retiree advisory board. Access the board for input on new product ideas, marketing strategy, supply chain management, or other areas where collective insights can be a positive impact.

  • Develop a retiree pool as temporary help

In a post-pandemic world where disruptions to supply chains and worker resources are common, a pool of retirees who can step in at a moment's notice can be critical. One way to extend this idea is to consider retirees as potential in-house liaisons between employees and management who can facilitate a healthy dialogue.

  • Designate retiree guides to the company

Former employees who know your business like no other make excellent tour guides. If you're in light manufacturing, advertising and marketing, or any other industries, tap retirees when prospective hires are in town, or sales prospects need an inside look at your operation.

As more communities offer 'doors open days,' where residents can get to know their business neighbors from the inside, having a retiree 'sherpa' to rely on can prove valuable.

Flipping the Script

In an age when fewer employees are entering the workforce than in past generations, adding retirees to your roster in any way, shape or form brings things full circle. Think of it this way: Workers who retire at 65 and return are ostensibly filling the role of a new hire at the beginning of their career.

Besides boosting our economy, it helps your business and the retiree. So, it's a win-win-win situation.