Work after retirement

The over 60s will comprise 25% of the population in the next 25 years and if you are 65 today you have a 25% chance of still being alive aged 90.

The old-style traditional retirement has now changed, with many people delaying retirement or returning to the workforce after retiring from their job.

I’m interested in how and why people work beyond retirement, their reasons for doing so and how employers and others can be of help.

This article is not just relevant for retirees who want to work but also employers, who don’t want to lose their skilled professional staff. The UK government says it is encouraging companies to take on older works but this does not necessarily lead to action.

I take the 5 dimensions of employability – career motivation, human capital, social capital, identities and personality, to share what I found most important from an article by Sullivan & Ariss. I include some questions relevant to those who are retired or considering this, and also for employers and retirement coaches.

Career motivation

Career Motivation includes needs such as the strive for money, security, advancement, peer approval and esteem (Alderfer, 1969) along with the desire for continuous learning and generativity such as passing on knowledge to the next generation. It also includes a persons’ self-perception, the extent to which they think they will get another job based on their strengths and weaknesses, the state of the job market, and organisational support for learning and development.

If you have a low retirement income you may work because of financial need. A high pension and savings can mean you work through choice, for less tangible reasons.

Key research findings:

  • Those who perceived work as fulfilling social needs (e.g., work provides a sense of belonging and social contact) and personal needs (e.g., work provides satisfaction and important tasks) were more likely to engage in paid postretirement employment.
  • Those who saw work as fulfilling generative needs (e.g., work as a chance to pass knowledge to others and contribute to society) were more likely to engage in unpaid caregiving or volunteer activities.
  • Retirees who sought independence and personal fulfilment were more likely to be self-employed, whereas those who wished to fulfil generative needs, desired physical and mental activity, or wanted new experiences tended to be employed by organizations.
  • Individuals were more likely to engage in postretirement employment if they would have control over their work schedule (e.g., workday start and end time, breaks) and if the job was not physically demanding.
  • Individuals also have to see themselves as being in good health before considering further work.

What could help:

  • Retirees want to see job ads that show the employer is keen to employ older workers, this would then encourage them to apply.
  • Whilst there may be a large number of vacancies, are these in areas where retirees want to work? We can’t assume retirees will fill just any vacancy.
  • More retirees would work if there was flexibility with more home working. We should all have the option of working more flexibly, and part-time interesting work is valued.

Human capital

Through our lives we gather knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) from our education, training and through our work. Learning new skills and developing new competences will enhance our human capital and improve our chances of getting a job. However, we are also up against employers who may make assumptions about our human capital through signals such as our physical appearance, and can also make assumptions based on age, seeing us as less likely to be in good health, no longer having the stamina of younger employees and lacking technical skills. This can make us feel that we won’t get the job leading to a circle so that we show less confidence, feeding in to their perceptions.

Key research findings:

  • Retirees with higher levels of education were significantly more likely to engage in paid postretirement employment, or a combination of paid employment and unpaid volunteer work, than those with lower levels of education.
  • Individuals who had a history of frequent job changes throughout their careers demonstrated a higher likelihood of working after retirement.
  • Those who had little desire to use their skills or who had been employed in a more traditional, bureaucratic organization were less likely to engage in postretirement employment.
  • Those retirees who had been with a single organization for a substantial period and had experienced work-related strain were more likely to opt for employment in a different field from their preretirement occupation.
  • Younger retirees (e.g., ages 55–64) were more likely to engage in postretirement employment than older retirees (e.g., ages 65 and over).
  • Older retirees were more inclined toward self-employment compared to younger retirees, potentially reflecting the challenges they faced in securing employment within organizations.
  • Male retirees tended to transition into different fields from their preretirement occupation, pursue self-employment, or embark on a second career. Conversely, female retirees tended to remain employed within the same occupational sector they worked in prior to retiring.

What could help:

  • Coaches could help retirees understand more about job search techniques, the benefits of networking and why they could benefit from an online presence.
  • People in their 50s and beyond may need encouragement to keep their skills updated, not just for their main work but with a view to the future and the skills needed for a possible new career to match this later life stage.
  • Guidance and encouragement to become an entrepreneur through role models, mentoring and practical support will provide more flexibility to continue working through self-employment.


Social capital

This covers to what extent you have good relationships with others that help you identify work opportunities. It helps if you consider yourself to be an effective networker so you have people who will tell you of opportunities. It also helps to have people who will provide emotional support.

Key research findings:

  • Retirees who effectively developed and used professional connections were able to successfully transition from one occupation to another (e.g., engineer to business owner, brokerage agent to estate agent).
  • Retirees used the professional connections that they had previously developed throughout their preretirement work life to start their postretirement businesses.
  • Retirees who had higher levels of support for their job search efforts were more likely to search for postretirement employment.
  • Emotional support from family and friends helped people to focus on post-retirement job search.

What could help:

  • Find out what support is needed and ensure support is targeted. Is it practical job search, emotional support or to build personal qualities such as assertiveness, confidence or communication skills.
  • Employers could provide guidance on post-retirement careers and allow time for training prior to retirement.
  • Encouragement can be given, mid-career onwards on building relationships and the use of social media for networking.
  • A review of a persons’ network; to what extent are they supportive of the retirees’ endeavours or do they want to hold them back?



Retirement will often be a time when we question our identity. Who are we now? Much of our identity is defined by our work or career but we are also a parent, spouse, friend. Our non-work life is connected to our work life and can influence the work we do (e.g., commute time and location) and if we leave our work it can impact on how we see ourselves, in some cases becoming depressed over the loss of our job or anxious if we have been suspended.

Key research findings:

  • Encounters with age discrimination in the workplace led certain individuals to internalize negative stereotypes associated with older workers, adopting what researchers refer to as an “older worker identity.” Those who embraced this negative self-perception reported lower levels of motivation, creativity, and flexibility, thereby reducing their likelihood of pursuing postretirement employment.
  • Retirees who experienced a strong sense of connection to their work, characterized by higher levels of work engagement and involvement, demonstrated a greater propensity to engage in postretirement employment.
  • Individuals who placed a higher emphasis on the work domain, prioritizing it over the nonwork domain, exhibited a heightened inclination to work after retirement.
  • Retirees who had psychologically disengaged from work before retirement or were mentally prepared for retirement displayed a decreased likelihood of seeking employment after retirement.
  • Hennekam’s (2015) research revealed that some working retirees faced stress and confusion as they grappled with the integration of what they perceived as two seemingly incompatible identities: their identity as a creative artist and their identity as a self-employed entrepreneur. Coping strategies varied, with some individuals choosing to separate their creative and non-creative activities, while others placed a stronger emphasis on their creative identity while downplaying their entrepreneurial identity.
  • Employed retirees who were married were more likely to work longer hours but were less likely to be self-employed than their single counterparts.

What could help:

  • Do retirees continue to work because they do not have a clear ‘non-work’ identity. Coaching may help to address this.
  • More information on differing paths and identities in retirement can allow a person to choose what is right for them – volunteering may fill the gap if the right opportunity is available.
  • As we age, we may move to being the care-giver to our elderly parents or a spouse with significant health difficulties, so our identity may change. Would some work enhance a persons’ identity if additional support is available?


In my research I found that openness and proactivity were helpful for a successful adjustment to retirement; this was also confirmed through this article. Openness refers to an individual’s acceptance of change and new experiences as well as the willingness to enact change. Those with a high level of openness are willing to take on new jobs, or engage in learning in order to meet evolving work requirements. Proactivity refers to the extent to which individuals take action to affect their work context and are more likely to seek out information to identify career opportunities.

Key research findings:

  • Griffin and Hesketh (2008) surveyed 987 pre-retirees in Australia and found that proactivity was positively related to postretirement employment.
  • Wöhrmann, Fasbender, and Deller (2016), surveying 1,071 employees of a German logistics company, reported that openness to change was positively associated with intentions to engage in post-retirement working.

A return to work

This transition is not a one-time event, retirees will move in and out of the work force. Research from 1994 by Ruhm found that almost 56% of the people he studied changes jobs at least twice whilst working in retirement, and I expect this to have now increased.

With the security of a pension, people may feel they can move to work they enjoy, and also take breaks for study, extended trips and for caring duties. However, a drop in the stock market or major expenses can lead to someone who was happily not working to have to return to work.

With this topic, it is useful to consider our broader identity, to include how our non-work life impacts on our need or want to work. If we begin to feel invisible as we have taken on the identity of a retired person then a return to work may enhance our self-concept.

Our return to work can also be influenced by experience. If we struggled to get work, and the work ends we may decide it is not worth the stress and effort to return to the job search arena.

Health changes can also influence someone to feel it will be too difficult to work and to seek adjustments from an employer. If someone can no longer stand all day are there alternatives? Can the job be done seated or would shorter shifts help. These are areas where an employer can help.

Support and encouragement to move to different work could help e.g., a mechanic or plumber who is unable to continue with physically demanding work but needs or wants to continue earning money.

Not everyone wants full-time work, so more part-time and flexible options will help. Attention could be paid to times of peak demand, allowing people such as retired accountants only working at the busy periods and others taking on consultancy assignments.

HR professionals can consider how to make the workplace more attractive to retirees to include flexible schedules, working from home, specific skills training

When researching for my book – Find work at 50+ I identified organisations who encouraged applications from an older workforce. These will be a useful start point for those seeking work at 60+ too!


Reference: Sullivan, S. E., & Al Ariss, A. (2019). Employment After Retirement: A Review and Framework for Future Research. Journal of Management, 45(1), 262–284.


Published On: May 9th, 2023 / Categories: Career Management, Retirement /