Labor Shortage Driving Demand for Retirees – 20% Have Been Asked to Return to Work

Updated October 20, 2021

As the labor shortage continues to cause hiring challenges for businesses of all sizes, companies across the country are offering better benefits and raising wages to try to attract the new workers they need. And it turns out that even retirees and employees approaching retirement age are being tempted into new careers by the hot job market.

We surveyed 1,100 retired workers and employees aged 54+ to see what types of career moves they are thinking of making. We found that:

  • 20% of retirees say past employers have asked them to return because of the labor shortage
  • 34% of retirees have considered going back to work because of job opportunities available in the current labor shortage
  • 40% of employees aged 54+ have considered switching jobs because of new opportunities in the job market

We elaborate on each of the findings below.

20% of Retirees Say Previous Employers Have Asked Them to Return Due to the Labor Shortage

We found that businesses are having such a hard time hiring that 20% of the retirees we surveyed said their old employers had actually asked them to come back and work for them again. However, it appears that the majority would not take them up on that offer. Of the group who said they would consider going back to work, only 41% said they would go back to their former position, while 59% would choose to seek employment elsewhere.

Daniela Sawyer, founder of Find People Fast, stated that rehiring retired workers is a viable option for her in the labor shortage. “I prefer to talk with my old retired employees because they know the culture of the company. They are emotionally attached to the organization as they were associated with it for a long duration. So if we recall them for any task, they feel honored and perform the job effectively.”

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Martin Luenendonk, CEO at Founder Jar, agreed, saying “One of the common options has been to ask retired workers to come back, even temporarily, to compensate for the lack of staffing. In my opinion, I see this as a highly feasible solution, as they will only need to be trained in the use and navigation of the system in use. They will already have a wealth of experience to bank on and will need less time to acclimatize themselves with operations.”

34% of Retirees Have Considered Returning to a Hot Job Market Caused by the Labor Shortage

The lack of workers needed to fill open positions is forcing business owners to offer better benefits to attract new employees, such as greater flexibility and work-from-home opportunities, more time off, and, of course, higher pay. More than a third of retirees we surveyed said that they would consider re-entering the workforce to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Damien Birkel, founder of the non-profit Professionals in Transition Support Group Inc., stated that he was seeing a similar trend among the aged 70+ retired job seekers he works with. Many say they are motivated to return to the job market because of the labor shortage and their desire to “get back in the game,” and that their employers have requested them to return to their former positions.

58% of Retirees Say They Would Switch Industries

Of the retirees who would consider going back to work and wouldn’t go back to their former employer, the majority wouldn’t necessarily stay in the same field, either. In fact, the majority responded that they would prefer to switch industries, with the most common reasons being less stress, the ability to work remotely, and switching to a career they’re more interested in. When asked which industry they would switch to, the largest percentage said service and hospitality, though responses were widely varied and no one option had a significant number of responses.

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40% of Workers 54+ Have Also Considered Switching Jobs in the Labor Shortage

When we surveyed employees aged 54 and up, we found that an even greater number are thinking about switching jobs to take advantage of new opportunities during the labor shortage. Similar to retirees, the most common reasons reported for wanting to switch jobs were for more pay, to work in something more interesting, experience less stress, and have the ability to work remotely. Tech and IT was the industry that the highest percentage of respondents wanted to switch to, but again responses varied widely with no one industry receiving a significant amount of responses.

Jill Cox-Cordova, a 54-year-old who works in academia, said that she is definitely considering switching industries due to stress in her current position. “I am too old to increase my workload, which was a demand. My workplace forced many of us to teach in person and online simultaneously, which was exhausting…” she explained.

Birkel also said that the majority of his aged 50+ job seekers report similar reasons for wanting to change jobs. Many are either fed up with their current career or still at work and afraid of contracting COVID. The plethora of safe, remote positions so widely available these days is certainly a draw for these types of older workers.

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54% of Workers 54+ Believe Their Employer Would Have Trouble Replacing Them in the Labor Shortage

More than half of workers aged 54 and up say their employer would have trouble finding a replacement for them in the current job market. This doesn’t bode well for employers, since some of the employees surveyed have retirement on the near horizon. Of those we surveyed:

  • 17% say they’ll retire within one year
  • 14% say they’ll retire in the next two years
  • 28% say they’ll retire in the next five years
  • 24% say they’ll retire in 10 years
  • 17% say they’ll retire in more than 10 years

When looking at just the 17% of workers who are planning to retire within the year, 62% predict their employer will have trouble replacing them, an increase of 8 percentage points from the total sample.

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Several of the employers we interviewed corroborated this finding and agreed that it would be difficult for them to replace employees during the labor shortage. Nick Chernets, CEO of Data for SEO, commented “I think that if I lost a couple of employees now, I would struggle a lot to replace them. I noticed that people are also less tolerant and quit faster which is another issue that could negatively impact employee retention.”

David Reid, sales director at VEM Tooling, was more straightforward. “Yes, we will have trouble replacing employees if they quit during the labor shortage.” Martin Seeley, CEO of Mattress Next Day concurred, “Definitely, yes. It is hard to find new employees most especially during this labor shortage and it is too costly.”

Michael Hamelburger, CEO of Sales Therapy, elaborated on some of the hiring struggles companies are facing in the labor shortage. “​​In our field, there are plenty of sales strategists ready to take over available positions. However, what is critical is the years of training that existing employees have gained in our company and if they leave, they’ll take this with them and we’ll have to train a new batch of staff again, which takes time.”

As workers across industries are reconsidering their options, the allure of a job market rich with opportunities for employees is attracting retirees and older workers alike. It will be interesting to see if a notable amount of retirees do return to the job market, especially with the amount of COVID-safe, remote jobs available today.

“I am considering using my transferrable skills of writing, editing, and journalism background to switch to an industry that appreciates remote workers, regardless of my age, race, or appearance,” elaborated Cox-Cordova. “I pursue positions that rely on skill, even if that means taking a job that takes me back to a status lower than I have accomplished in other fields.”

Methodology

This survey was commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between September 23 and September 24, 2021. In total, 1,100 participants in the U.S. were surveyed: 700 retirees and 400 employees aged 54+. Participants had to pass through screening questions and age demographic filters to ensure they met the qualifications for the survey. The participants come from a variety of industries including business, service and hospitality, and tech and IT.