The Unretirement Phenomenon: Why Leaders Are Calling It Quits on Retirement (and Why That's a Good Thing)
An estimated 1.5 million retirees have re-entered the U.S. labor market over the past year. What's to be gained when someone "unretires?"
An estimated 1.5 million retirees have re-entered the U.S. labor market over the past year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data. As someone who left the corporate world for retirement and then changed my mind, I have a first-hand perspective of what's to be gained when someone "unretires."
At my company, Vistage, I also see the wisdom our executive coaches (many of whom are unretirees) bring to the table, both in group meetings and one-on-one conversations with CEOs who are looking for advice from those who have navigated difficult terrain before them. Many of these Chairs are leaders who took the leap of faith to reenter the workforce, because — after taking some time to recharge and explore hobbies — they just knew they still had more to offer the business world. In conversations with colleagues, friends and Chairs throughout the years, many unretirees have expressed similar thinking behind their decision to re-enter the workforce and bring their skills, wisdom and experience back to the table on their own terms. Here are four reasons more and more leaders are calling it quits on retirement:
1. To find purpose and relevance
Time and time again, retirees who choose to re-enter the workforce cite the same central reason: They want to quench their burning desire to be a part of something larger than themselves again and miss the thrill of feeling impassioned about their purpose. By nature, humans strive for a sense of relevancy and desire to leave a lasting impact; when someone retires, that switch doesn't automatically turn off. Seasoned executives who are able to do inspiring and meaningful work on their own terms find the best of both worlds. They discover they can be more productive than ever before, while leading balanced lives.
These days, there are so many options for what one's definition of "work" looks like. Experienced leaders have more opportunities to do fulfilling work while catering to their lifestyle at any stage.
2. Wisdom is in hot demand
With "The Great Resignation," roughly 4.3 million people quit their jobs, creating a job-seekers' market across-the-board. As a result, experienced leaders and employees are in high demand.
Many coming out of retirement have found they can leverage a valuable skill set: earned wisdom. After jumping back in from the sidelines, many gravitate toward roles where they can mentor, coach or consult others to success, offering up lessons learned from decades of experience in the trenches. At Vistage, we see this up close every day, as Vistage Chairs bring decades of business experience into their discussions with CEOs. That firsthand, real-world insight is unparalleled when making critical business decisions.
3. Diverse perspectives
Diversity is one of the most critical elements of the workforce in 2022. Different perspectives result in better decisions, and seasoned executives provide essential intergenerational wisdom that can only come from experience. It would be a great shame for all the wisdom that is accumulated over decades of leadership to be lost in retirement, when it could be shared with the next generation. Being and having mentors is just as important for "unretirees" as it is for rising talent. Mixing with those from different backgrounds and generations enables fresh thinking and collaboration. In these tumultuous times, it has become clear how much we have to learn (and stand to gain) from one another.
4. Renewing skills
Technology continues to rapidly transform our lives, and subsequently, learning new skills has become a critical component for those re-entering the workforce. But those who return to the workforce aren't just looking to upgrade their technology skills. They are on a quest for lifelong learning. Rather than focusing on the areas where they've already built a lifetime of expertise, they are also interested in finding new skills and continuing to jump into unfamiliar territory. They seek out a sense of renewal with curiosity and humility, gaining new knowledge and different expertise to round out their years of experience.
Unretirement may not be for everyone, but there are many who reach the top of the mountain only to realize that they still want to climb another peak. These executives are always trying to learn more and improve, and they're also interested in giving back and helping others after a lifetime of success. There has never been a better time to rethink "retirement" and leverage the opportunities presented by flexibility to create a new, fulfilling path forward for those of retiring age. The growing popularity of unretirement is an exciting opportunity for retirees to continue to offer their vast knowledge and experience on their own terms. Not to mention, businesses have so much to gain from the contributions of seasoned executives.
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