Is going back to work after retirement the right move for me?

If you’re considering returning to work after retiring, or, as it has come to be known, ‘unretiring’, then you’re not alone. A 2017 study conducted by The University of Manchester and King’s College London found that approximately one in four retirees in the UK return to the workforce.

Although ‘unretiring’ is a popular choice among retirees, especially within the first five years of retirement, it’s not always the right decision for everyone.

To help you decide whether it’s the right move for you, we’ve put together a list of things that can be useful to think about before returning to work.

What are the benefits of returning to work?

1. Returning to work can boost your finances

One of the most obvious benefits of returning to work after retirement is that it gives you an extra source of income. Maybe, like many people, you’ve found yourself spending your savings at a quicker rate than expected, or maybe you just want to improve your financial situation. In any case, going back to work, either part or full-time, can be an effective way to boost your finances.

2. Returning to work can improve your brain health

The benefits of returning to work after retirement have also been associated with improved brain health. For instance, this 2014 study suggests that working longer is associated with a decreased risk of dementia. This is because by challenging ourselves to perform new tasks, we create physical, functional, and chemical changes in the brain, which can help to keep it active and healthy.

However, as we gain more life experience, we’re required to spend more time actively seeking out new skills and experiences if we are to continue stimulating our brains. If we don’t do this, then we can enter ‘autopilot’ mode, where we no longer challenge our brains to create new learning pathways. Research suggests that this decrease in learning can lead to cognitive decline.

So, returning to work can be a great way to continue to use your brain, keep it healthy, and learn new skills.

3. Returning to work can combat loneliness

For some, retirement can be a chance to renew a social life that has previously taken a backseat to a career, and/or an opportunity to spend time with family. However, for others, retirement can be an entirely different experience.

For many of us, work provides a great deal of our social interaction. Therefore, upon retiring, it is common to find yourself feeling lonely. This report conducted by Age UK tells us that there are 1.4 million chronically lonely older adults in the UK and this number is predicted to rise to 2 million by 2026.

Loneliness is considered to be a major public health problem in the UK and can not only lead to mental health issues such as depression, but to physical problems too. Loneliness and social isolation are thought to increase our chances of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as putting us at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia. It’s thought that social isolation can be as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or having an alcohol use disorder.

Going back to work can be an excellent way to combat loneliness and foster social connections, thereby helping you look after your physical and mental health.

4. Returning to work can prevent boredom

For some, retirement can be a liberating experience. Not being committed to a job allows you to spend more time and energy doing whatever it is you want to do – from getting together with friends and family, to pursuing hobbies and travelling.

However, for many, having this much time to fill is not so welcome. A survey commissioned by the National Citizens Service (NCS) concluded that the average retiree grows bored after only a year and that 1 in 10 respondents reported that they were struggling to fill their time after just five months. So if you are feeling bored, or somewhat aimless, you’re not alone.

Returning to work can be an effective way to re-establish purpose and a routine in your life, and combat boredom.

5. Returning to work can be an opportunity to try something new

Going back to work after retiring does not necessarily mean going back to your previous job, or even your previous industry. It can instead be an opportunity to explore exciting new avenues. Maybe there was a career that you always wanted to pursue but, for whatever reason (maybe the pay was too low or the hours weren’t suitable) you didn’t. Well, this might be the right time to give it a go.

Working can provide us with a sense of empowerment because it’s often a place where we are needed, relied upon, and respected. Therefore, when this is lost, it’s common for retirees to feel a lack of purpose and fulfilment, and a yearning to contribute to something. As a result, many older adults are using their retirement period to pursue what is known in the US as an ‘encore career’.

An encore career is the pursuit of a new vocation that contributes to society in a social or public way. Becoming a teacher, a nurse or a carer are great examples of popular encore careers. Helping others is a great way to re-establish a sense of purpose and fulfilment that you might find is lacking in retirement. Plus, learning a new vocation can be a great way to stimulate the brain and keep it healthy.

If the idea of an encore career sounds appealing, then you might find some further inspiration in our interview with 68-year-old Dee Flower who, after eight months of retirement, started an entirely new role in charity work.

6. Returning to work could mean starting your own business

Maybe, like many people, you’ve always dreamed of starting a business of your own or becoming your own boss. If so, then going back to work after retirement could present you with the perfect opportunity.

Starting a business or becoming self-employed is an increasingly popular choice for retirees looking to get back into the workplace. Age UK tells us that the number of self-employed people over 65 has more than doubled over the past five years.

Starting a business is a great way to find exactly what you want from a career – you can revisit some old passions and work on your own terms. Plus, your professional and life experiences can give you an edge.

For more on starting a business later in life, you might want to have a read of David Prest’s story. David started a successful vintage-themed catering company in his 50s.

Why should I be cautious about returning to work?

While there are many benefits of returning to work after retirement, there are also a few reasons why you should be cautious about the decision.

1. Consider the impact of returning to work on your physical health

Earlier in this article, we highlighted some of the physical and mental health benefits associated with returning to work. However, there’s also evidence to suggest that working past retirement age can be detrimental to health.

This research review conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work tells us that ‘older workers are more likely than younger workers to suffer from chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disorders and musculoskeletal diseases.’ And although it may seem obvious, the risk that working has on your health increases with age. For instance, this same review tells us that workers aged 55-59 are more likely to report having health problems than workers aged 50-54.

Each person’s health needs differ, so ultimately, only you can decide whether or not returning to work is the right move for you. If you have any health concerns, then you may want to consult with your GP during the decision-making process. If you’re considering making a return to a role that is particularly physically strenuous or mentally stressful then it’s best to take your time over the decision, and weigh up the pros and cons.

2. Upon returning to work, the environment might have changed

If you’ve been retired for more than a few months, and you plan on returning to the same role within the same company – or even the same industry – then it’s worth bearing in mind that things might have changed since you were last there. For example, a company might have introduced new staff, systems, or processes – meaning that the people you worked with previously or the way you worked before might now be different.

One major workplace shift since the recent pandemic is that companies ask many of their employees to work from home. So, it’s worth thinking about whether this arrangement could work for you.

3. The job search process can be tough

Although here at Rest Less, we are committed to finding and increasing job opportunities for over 50s, the job search process can still be tough at times.

Age discrimination in the workplace is unfortunately still prevalent in the UK job market, even though it is illegal under the Equality Act of 2010. For instance, our research shows that unemployed over 50s are two and a half times as likely as younger age groups to be out of work for at least two years.

While these statistics can be disheartening, it can help to head into your job search with an awareness of age discrimination, so that you can recognise (and know how to deal with) any unfair treatment. It’s also important to remember that each person’s experience will be different, and that yours could be entirely positive. There are plenty of employers out there who value age and life experience in the workplace, and welcome applications from mature candidates.

If you do decide to begin your job-search process, then we have plenty of resources and information that can help. For instance, you can visit our jobs and careers page to search for vacancies and read careers advice, or you can join our job seekers group on Facebook.

4. Returning to work might mean that you are pushed into a higher tax bracket

Another thing to be aware of when considering returning to work after retirement, especially if your reasoning is primarily financial, is your income tax. If you’re currently receiving income from your pension, and you plan on continuing to do so when you re-enter the workforce, then the extra income from your job could push you into a higher tax bracket.

It’s important to take into account tax brackets when re-joining the workforce, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s financially viable for you to return to work. You can check out the UK income tax brackets here.

What other options do I have if I decide not to return to work?

If you’re thinking about returning to work after retiring, first, it might be worth considering other options that could help to solve the unfavourable aspects of your retirement. For example:

  • Try volunteering – If your reasons for wanting to return to the workplace are not primarily financial, then you could consider volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to foster social connections, establish a sense of purpose, and help others. Consider checking out our volunteering page to get some inspiration or search for volunteering roles.

  • Create a routine – Working is a great way to establish routine and structure to your day. If you’re struggling with the amount of free time you have on your hands, then establishing a routine can be a helpful alternative to going back to work. A daily routine, filled with exercise, activities, and goals can leave you feeling productive and fulfilled.

  • Consider getting a dog – Caring for a pet is a meaningful way to re-establish many of the benefits of working in your life. A pooch will help establish a new routine with its daily walks and feeding, as well as help to combat loneliness. If you’re considering getting a dog, you might want to take a look at our guide to adopting. Or, if you’re on the fence, check out the benefits of owning a pet

    Note: Though owning a dog can add great purpose to your life, it’s important to remember that they come with a great deal of responsibility. Always do your research first, and make sure that it’s the right decision for you – both practically and financially – before making the commitment.

  • Join a club – If it’s the social connections that are tempting you back to work, then you might want to consider joining a club. There are clubs for just about anything – from walking and swimming to poker and wine tasting. Clubs with specific activities are a great way to meet like-minded people with whom you share similar interests. There are also clubs dedicated to socialising, such as lunch clubs and drop-in clubs if you just fancy some food, drink, and a chat. For more tips and advice on how to meet new people, you might want to check out our article here.

  • Learn new skills – Although going back to work can be a great way to keep your brain healthy, learning new skills and engaging with new activities outside of the workplace can be equally as effective. Consider checking out the learning section of our site, which has a wide variety of popular courses, as well as learning resources and inspiration.

Final thoughts…

Going back to work can be an appealing option if you’re feeling dissatisfied with retirement. Working can offer a sense of purpose and routine, as well as social connections which can help to combat loneliness. However, going back to work is a big step and there are many factors to consider.

It can help to ask yourself ‘Why do I want to go back to work?’, or, ‘Why is it that I’m dissatisfied with retirement?’ Zeroing in on the cause of your dissatisfaction with retirement or what you miss about working will allow you to consider if you can find satisfaction in a non-work capacity, so you can decide if going back to work is the right choice for you.

We hope that this article has given you some things to consider if you are thinking about going back to work. Just like retiring in the first place, ‘unretiring’ is an incredibly personal decision, and what’s right for some might not be right for others. Only you can make the final decision.

Are you thinking about returning to work after retirement? Or have you done so already? If so, do you have any advice? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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