The Return of Unretirement

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I first wrote about unretirement here in January 2016. I also wrote about it at that time on another blog in connection to learning and education. It was a new term and I found so little about it online at first that I thought I might have coined the term myself. I’ve written about aspects of it a number of times here over the subsequent years. But the term came up recently in several articles and podcasts I encountered in a new way.

While my definition of unretirement back in 2016 was returning to part-time work after having formally retired from full-time work. I also defined my version of unretirement as working at something you really wanted to do regardless of whether you would be paid to do it. For me, this meant both doing some web design for people I knew and organizations I was involved in (for pay and pro bono), some minor consulting in higher education and also volunteering.

Some volunteering work I did eventually offered me the chance to do some teaching again for a small stipend. It is very part-time work but it is teaching I really enjoy. Another volunteer position with a foundation lead to an offer to create and maintain their website for pay. My goal in volunteering was never to get paid but it is nice to be compensated for your time even if it is not at the level I was once paid as a full-time employee. Unretirement, for me, is not about making money.

But two new reasons for unretirement emerged in the past two years largely because of the COVID pandemic. The first is the need for trained workers after what has been labeled the “Great Resignation” of 2020 and 2021. These are the people leaving the working world for good. The number is estimated to be more than 3 million.

The second reason is that people who retired with no plans to work again found that what they had saved and planned as their money for retirement was inadequate. Rising prices and inflation this year haven’t helped that situation.

A third reason that is not pandemic related is that many people who retire without a plan for what they will do in retirement find themselves bored and actually missing work in some ways.

We have all heard the news stories about the shortage of workers willing to take on certain jobs that had disappeared temporarily during the pandemic. There were also workers whose jobs became so different and difficult during the pandemic (healthcare, education, service industries, for example) that people decided it was time to either retire or change careers.

Companies want to lure back recently retired employees. They may need these workers back into the office or remotely, either full- or part-time.

Another new term I have seen is “returnships.” This blend of unretirement and an internship is a paid, three-to-six-month position that offers on-the-job training. This is something that might have been offered in the past to mid-career employees. For a retiree or someone who has decided to change careers, this is a chance to pick up new skills and maybe lead to a more regular work situation. Suddenly, it seems, that some companies want to keep a connection with their older employees and use their expertise.

An opinion piece in The Washington Post headlined “The Great Resignation is also the Great Retirement of the baby boomers. That’s a problem.” In that article, Helaine Olen points to a Goldman Sachs estimate that more than half of those who had left the workforce during the covid era’s “Great Resignation” were over 55. The pandemic motivated many people to retire earlier than they had planned. She points out that “In the years leading up to the pandemic, many Americans said they wanted to work well past the traditional retirement age. In 2013, a solid 10 percent told Gallup they would ‘never’ exit the workforce.”

So, why return to work, possibly full-time work? Many Americans do not have enough money set aside for their senior years and inflation in 2022 and rising prices let them know that they were going to run out of whatever nest egg or retirement plans they had made. The article also points to a kind of “obsession with work as a way of finding meaning in life.”

Can a Job Be Fun?

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The answer to my question should be Yes, but it’s often No. I spent my adult life teaching in grades 7 through graduate students. Some days were fun and overall I enjoyed my four decades in classrooms. But some days were not fun. My wife also taught and we agreed that some days we had gone to school and some days we had gone to work – the latter being the less-fun days.

What’s the often heard quote usually credited to Mark Twain? “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Excellent advice, but like much good advice, not so easy to follow.

Since I retired from full-time work, I have been in what I call unretirement. (read about that here). That was about 6 years ago. I can’t pin down an actual date. It was a process.

Occasionally, I receive queries from other bloggers or websites who want me to use one of their posts on my blogs or include a link to them in a post. Sometimes it is just an attempt to get their link out there. Sometimes they offer payment to include their content. I ignore both of those. Sometimes they point me to resources and it catches my attention. That was the case with a recent email.

Tiffany from SixtyandMe emailed me to suggest a resource to add to my post about learning to unretire. his page. The resource is a page on that site about 9 fun part-time jobs for retirees that anyone can do.

My own definition of being unretired is taking on “jobs” that match my interests, time availability, and would be enjoyable. Getting paid is not the deciding factor.

I do some volunteer work that gets me into nature, has me involved in a poetry foundation, gets me to work at a film festival, and puts me in a food pantry and kitchen for people who need such things. Those are all non-profits and no pay – at least no payment in money. I also still do some work in web design for pay, but only web work for people that I support and enjoy doing.

Looking at that article of 9 fun jobs, I realize I am already doing several of them. Some of those jobs could pay you, but almost every paid job can be a volunteer job too. My last full-time and also part-time positions were both in instructional design. Those were paid positions and they paid well, but you can find on sites like LinkedIn opportunities to do that work as an unpaid volunteer for non-profits.

It is certainly a luxury that I can pick and choose what I do now and whether I will do it for pay. Not everyone has that luxury available to them, but I would recommend everyone consider doing some volunteer work at something they really enjoy. It’s good for the heart and soul.