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Gen Z’s Return to Office Sparks Boomer Renaissance in the Workforce

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The Unretiring Trend: Retired Boomers Returning to the Workforce

The Labor Day return-to-office crunch might be a shock to Gen Z workers who launched their careers from their couch. But there’s another segment of the workforce that’s had enough of the couch potato life: retired boomers.

Retirees Considering Reentering the Workforce

Nearly half (44%) of current retirees have plans to reenter the workforce or are strongly considering it, according to a June 2023 study by Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Company. With the current average U.S. retirement age hovering around 64, that means those coming out of retirement are almost entirely Baby Boomers. To be sure, a healthy portion of those folks are likely pursuing work for economic reasons. Perhaps they assumed that they’d saved adequately for retirement, only to realize their expenses vastly outweighed their savings.

Reasons for Returning to Work

The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics supports this, as the unemployment rate actually ticked up slightly to 3.8%, with economists finding a good reason for it: More people were looking for work in August, meaning a technically higher unemployment rate. In other words, many boomers are tiring of the couch life.

Most commonly, the Fidelity study found, inflation has impacted retirees’ savings, and they don’t want to rely on just the fixed income that a pension and/or Social Security provide. But others, F&G wrote, were motivated to return to the office for the lifestyle it affords: Socializing, a renewed sense of purpose, and new social and professional connections.

The Rise of Unretirement

The “unretiring” trend has been a long time coming. Last spring, CNBC said the combined forces of a booming labor market, soaring inflation, and “fading Covid fears” were the main impetus for Boomers to dust off their business casual garb. Unretirement, which saw a similar jolt following the 2008 financial crises, “is emblematic [of] the labor market overall, which is seeing increasing labor force participation for a broad swath of workers,” Nick Bunker, Indeed’s North American economic research director, told CNBC.

Even now, and is likely to gain greater momentum as offices (at least some of them) fill up in earnest. According to a February 2023 study by Paychex, one in 6 retirees said they’re considering returning to work—but just 20% of them said they were seeking a fully in-person job.

Challenges and Emotions Associated with Unretirement

The majority of retirees told Paychex they returned to work for the obvious reason: They needed more money. But other factors were also top of mind: more Paychex respondents said they were unretiring because they were bored or lonely than because of inflation. Sadly, the office may not be the answer to their woes; three-quarters of unretirees said they felt judged by their coworkers because of their age, and over 60% of hiring managers admitted to having concerns about older applicants.

James Reed, CEO of U.K.-based recruitment firm Reed, told Fortune in January how critical it is for companies to overcome ageism. “The skill set that older workers offer, including a different yet valuable perspective on workplace decisions and a substantial level of experience, should not be understated. Older workers are invaluable, and companies should think creatively about appealing to this group.”

That could mean doing away with frustrating advanced technology of screening that would frustrate or confuse older workers, and making an effort to encourage bonding and understanding among a multigenerational workforce.

Positive Outlook for Unretirees

But it’s not all such a tragic tale. While some would say that the thought of Boomers applying for a job would be demoralizing or a grim reflection of the state of the U.S. economy, the unretirees themselves don’t feel that way. The top three emotions associated with returning to the workforce, per Paychex, were happy (60%), energized (50%) and excited (48%). Later down the list came resigned, anxious, frustrated and insecure.

In a 2022 Joblist survey, the majority of unretirees (60%) said they were simply “looking for something to do.” That something could be more meaningful than it sounds. Jackie Anscher, a 60-year-old spin instructor, told the New York Times she felt forced into an early retirement when COVID lockdowns shuttered fitness studios. Returning to the bike, she said, returned to her a sense of identity. “It’s about my mental health,” she said. “For me, it’s about preserving me.” It remains to be seen how well self-preservation will endure against post-pandemic rush hour traffic.

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