Unretirement: The next workplace revolution after retirement

While most South African businesses are focused on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a new phenomenon is slowly creeping up on our society: Unretirement.

What is unretirement?

With no firm dictionary definition as yet, unretirement has been described as “a kind of divorce from retirement” by Bankrate and “the practice of rehiring employees who were previously retired” by Mighty Recruiter. But why would anyone want to give up the luxury of leisure and freedom from responsibilities after a life of working against the clock?

Why do retirees go back to work?

1. Financial reasons

For one, the current economic downturn and lack of adequate retirement savings means more elderly people will face poverty. People are also living much longer, which means older workers are healthy enough to stay in their jobs. And, as reported by the BBC, many “retirees struggle with boredom and isolation without the structure, community and sense of purpose work can bring”. Enter unretirement, which not only provides people with a sense of purpose but is also good for the economy.

2. Retirees can add value to businesses

South Africa – like many places – has a retirement age of 65, but older individuals can still be hired on a consulting, contract basis. Plus, there’s talk the antiquated notion of a retirement age may soon be amended or the age increased.

Additionally, many retirees are hopping on the hustle trend and entering the gig economy with part-time ventures. Quartz calls senior entrepreneurs ‘the economy’s most underrated natural resource’. Why? Because these workers are ‘older, bolder and wiser’ – and, increasingly, they’re opting to be entrepreneurs and ‘small-business builders’, according to a Merrill Lynch study.

3. Lifelong learning

There’s no doubt they bring a wealth of wisdom to any workplace. And they’ll become an increasingly valued and in-demand resource as the economy keeps evolving and we all keep living longer. But, having jobs for retired people – even on a contract basis – brings challenges, including the need to provide 4IR training, lifelong learning, technological issues and more. So, how should human resource teams and business leaders start prepping for a new type of workforce that includes the unretired? Start with these tips:

How can workforces train retirees for unretirement?

1. Be flexible

As more baby boomers exit the workplace and are replaced by millennials and Generation Z, employers fear losing talent, according to a survey by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work. As cited by Fast Company, the survey found that 40% of companies feel the drain of talent through retirement will hurt their performance over the next four years.

To regain that expertise, HR and leaders should look at offering more flexible work arrangements and opportunities to do work that gives back – one of the major reasons for unretirement amongst baby boomers. Purpose-led work is what many unretires are seeking, so it’s essential for employers to provide meaningful opportunities that really move the needle from a business objective perspective, but also, in terms of doing greater good in society.

2. Provide support and mentorship

While older workers bring inherent knowledge and years of experience, their younger counterparts are more clued up with technological innovations and perspectives. In order to bring the two together, leaders must make it clear that both generations bring insight and that there are many learning opportunities available if they change their perspectives and work together, says Unretire Yourself. It’s vital to actively set up learning sessions and workshops, plus reciprocal mentorship moments.

3. Put it out there

If your organisation is looking at an employee-retention strategy that specifically targets unretired people, it’s important that you make both your current and potential employees aware of the benefits and incentives your company can offer. Marketing this through your digital channels as well as open days will spark interest in people who have retired fully or are about to retire but feel like something is missing, says Human Resource Executive.

Open days, where you provide information on the types of jobs available for the unretired, as well as transition incentives, where senior employees can choose to retain some of their responsibilities while shifting others to another employee, can facilitate the transfer of knowledge while ensuring the senior employee feels appreciated and useful.

4. Make lifelong learning opportunities ongoing

The world of work has changed a lot and continues to change. 4IR, with its technological and human-centric advancements, is driving entirely new ways of doing business. To understand how this informs a company’s vision and strategy, it’s imperative the unretired glean insights into digital transformation and automation.

Additionally, it could be very beneficial to marry an individual’s significant knowledge with a framework for innovative thinking. A USB-ED Master Class in Innovation and Design Thinking and Scenario Planning could enable an unretired worker to define a problem and use their experience to solve it. Or to imagine myriad futures and use their experience to bring about the ones the business most wants to happen. Another consideration for businesses is to appoint the unretired as coaches to mentor and groom upcoming leaders.

And while all this is good news for employees, it’s even better news for the unretired. According to Unretire Yourself, baby boomers can expect to enjoy the following benefits from re-entering the workforce:

Why should retirees consider unretirement?

  • An additional income,
  • Staving off boredom,
  • Helping the economy grow,
  • Increased energy,
  • Staying mentally sharp and warding off diseases generally associated with getting older, such as Alzheimer’s,
  • An opportunity to mentor younger colleagues while learning more about 4IR technological developments,
  • Receiving emotional support from peers, and
  • Making social connections with people outside your age group or friend circle.

The University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development (USB-ED) can customise courses specifically for your organisation’s unretirement upskilling needs – taking your (no longer) retired workforce into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond. For more information, get in touch here.

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