‘Unretiring’ to Work

A new study shows retirees returning to work is no longer just a trend—it’s a permanent feature of the new world of work. How are leaders and other workers reacting?

For a growing number of older workers, retirement is turning out to be short-lived.

In what is no longer just a trend but rather a permanent feature of the new world of work, more people are “unretiring” and returning to the workforce. According to a new survey, 12% of retirees aged 62 to 85 plan to go back to work this year, while one-quarter have already done so. Experts say unretiring is gaining momentum because it solves problems for both employees and employers. “Sixty-five isn’t as old as it used to be,” says John Long, North America retail sector leader at Korn Ferry, referring to the view from both sides of the hiring table.

To be sure, just because retired people are looking for work doesn’t mean they’re going to find it—despite strong hiring figures. Many candidates complain that navigating new job offerings has become too complex. HR officials, meanwhile, still worry about the ability of older workers to adapt to technological change, particularly since the advent of generative AI.

But many older workers seem eager to upskill to get back into the workforce; according to the study, they cite inflation and high living costs as their top reasons for coming back. To explain their inability to remain retired, one-third (much like seniors in the general population) also cite a lack of savings and too much debt. On the employer side, these “unretirees” can help fill vacant jobs, particularly in states where flexible work has made hiring tough (or in management roles that younger workers have been reluctant to take). “In many ways, people who unretire serve as a much-needed stabilizing force for the talent issues employers are facing,” says Shanda Mints, vice president of the RPO Implementation team at Korn Ferry. Citing the four million people who are expected to turn 65 every year between now and 2027, Mints says that employers need some of these people to stay in or return to the workforce in order to avoid a major attrition issue.

But even before many boomers retired, many corporate experts expressed concern that older employees could clog up the succession pipeline for eager younger workers. Tracy Bosch, leader of work measurement in North America for Korn Ferry, says younger generations may worry that older workers are “overstaying their welcome” and leaving them less prepared to eventually step up. “Leaders have to consider a long-term pipeline strategy along with short-term hiring,” Bosch says.

One approach firms have taken is to bring people out of retirement and pair them on an interim basis with high-potential younger workers. “We’re having a lot more discussions with clients like that because of the economy,” says Tom Wrobleski, a global account leader in the Consumer practice at Korn Ferry. Firms see value, he says, in the mentor-mentee relationship between formerly retired managers who understand how to balance growth with cost management and younger managers who’ve never experienced a prolonged downturn. “It’s putting people who have been there and done that together with people who have not,” says Wrobleski.

Maria Amato, senior client partner in the Organizational Strategy practice at Korn Ferry, says the rise of “unretirement” underscores the need for recruiting and retention strategies that motivate talent at different points in their lives. “Building robust talent-acquisition strategies needs to take into account that employees aren’t a monolith,” she says. She cites a client who groups talent into three categories based on different motivators. One category is for those who prioritize compensation and work-life balance, another is for those who value job security and leadership quality, and a third is for employees who want to learn new skills and advance up the corporate ladder. “There are younger employees in each group, and older employees in each group,” Amato says.


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Talent Acquisition capabilities.