top of page

Rethinking retirement: What to know about returning to the workforce

Q. I retired last year at age 66. After an unfulfilling volunteer experience, I find myself in a period of re-evaluation and considering going back to work. Given that, how does one overcome the societal and human resources biases toward rehiring? Is there any place (or hope) for seniors returning, once they retire? G.D.

You are not alone in this re-evaluation period. About one in six retired Americans are rethinking their post-retirement life. On average, these folks have been out of the workforce for about four years with half looking for remote positions and two-thirds looking for full-time work.

The evaluation process you mentioned is an important first step. Assuming a satisfying work experience, it can be useful to examine the positive aspects of work that you might be missing.

In working with over 25,000 soon-to-retire employees, I often asked the question, “When you retire, what will you miss most from your work experience?” Note, these employees worked for large companies and most had 401k pension plans.

Almost consistently, regardless of the profession or the work, employees believed most frequently they would miss their co-workers and having a sense of purpose. What typically followed on the list was the nature of the work, its challenges, the structure and expectations, the flexibility, opportunities to learn, the recognition, making a difference, the variety of tasks and responsibilities and the work environment. So often, money was mentioned last, although it was a consideration. Note, those without a pension might have answered the question differently.

So consider asking yourself if there are some aspects of work that you enjoyed and now miss them? The answers might serve as a guide to the type of work that would appeal to you.

The Indeed Career Guide, an online resource, offers tips for returning to work after retirement.

Decide how much you want to work. For some, full-time work is perfect, particularly with an empty schedule. For others, it might seem overwhelming. If a retirement routine has already been established, it’s useful to consider how work fits into other commitments and activities. If one has a partner or mate, a conversation about returning to work is important. A mate’s response can range from, “Please work; you need to get out of the house and have a place to go” to “How can you work when we have all of these trips planned?”

Think about the goal. This could be a time to explore work that is different from your previous job, a time to discover a new occupation or capitalize on existing hobbies and interests. For example, if you love gardening, one could explore working at a gardening center. And if golf is your thing, working at a golf store could provide enjoyment and camaraderie in a familiar sports environment that you enjoy. Starting your own business is another option. And don’t forget about having fun.

Consider the job requirements. Review your needs and how they align with the work requirements. Think about the physical components. Does the job require standing for extensive periods of time such as in retail positions? Does it require some lifting, bending and kneeling? In some cases, these physical requirements could be an asset in retaining one’s fitness. For others, it could jeopardize physical well-being. Certain jobs may require the use of technology with computers, tablets, smartphones and the use of software programs. If you are not current in technology, some additional learning might increase the opportunities.

Capitalize on your past experience. Trying something new can be a challenge and lots of fun. However, don’t discount your past experience. Being a seasoned and experienced person in your field could be an asset to a company in problem-solving, being part of a multi-generational work team, mentoring or heading up a special project aligned with your knowledge, skills, insights and more. Know that older workers are known for their work ethic, maturity, reliability and professionalism in combination with what is called soft skills. These are interpersonal skills that older workers have from their life experience.

Use online resources plus. Most companies post positions online with applications. If you are interested in a particular company, check out its website. If needed, ask a tech-savvy friend for help in navigating online resources. Friends and family are the extra plus. Let them know you are looking for work opportunities and go beyond the online resources. Word of mouth counts.

Next week, we’ll address overcoming biases, and yes, messages of hope.

In the meantime, stay well and consider extending a little more kindness than needed.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


bottom of page