Employment After Retirement?

We’re pleased to welcome authors Sherry E. Sullivan of Bowling Green State University and Akram Al Ariss of Toulouse Business School. They  recently published an article in the Journal of Management entitled “Employment After Retirement: A Review and Framework for Future Research,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly discuss their findings and possible future directions.]

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There are many myths about retirement and aging and one of the biggest of these myths is that retirement is a permanent state. Instead, the boundaries between retirement and work have become more permeable, with a growing number of individuals repeatedly moving in and out retirement.

While conducting our review on work after retirement, we came to two important realizations. First, retirement should not be seen as a permanent exit from the labor force. Instead, we recommend that retirement be viewed as a career transition that includes individuals routinely moving across the boundaries between work and retirement. Just as many women, for example, opt in and out of the workforce while having children, many retirees opt in and out of the labor force based upon their evolving needs for authenticity, balance, and challenge. Second, the prior conceptualization of employability as the ability to obtain employment within and between the boundaries of an organization based upon proactive adaptability is still appropriate, but we recommend that its application be broader. The concept of employability has been very useful in studying individuals in the early and mid career stages; it has great potential utility for studying retirees in late career as they navigate transitions in and out of the labor force.

As demonstrated by our review, although the number of studies on work after retirement has increased, especially over the past decade, the field is still in a relatively nascent stage of development. Much of the research on postretirement employment is atheoretical or fails to examine the complex interaction of agency (e.g., social and human capital, family considerations) and context (e.g., societal, political, and market conditions) upon the decision making process. The continued study of postretirement work engagement is an area ripe for high quality, theory-driven research.

We hope scholars will consider taking a multi-disciplinary approach, such as integrating theory from the career domain (boundaryless, protean or kaleidoscope career) with theories from other domains (e.g., entrepreneurship, human resource management, diversity) to provide a better understanding of work after retirement within today’s global work environment. For example, while prior studies have tended to focus on the yes or no decision whether to re-enter the labor force, the decision to re-enter the labor is more complex. Retirees contemplating re-entering the labor force must consider the type of work they wish to pursue (i.e., same field or new occupation), the hours they wish to work (full or part-time, year round or seasonal), the extent to which their personal work-life balance is affected, as well as whether these types of opportunities for employment are available given the labor market and government policies. Future studies could also explore why some retirees continue their pre-retirement career path while others change occupations, become self-initiated expatriates or move into entrepreneurship and what factors influence whether these different transitions are successful or not.

There are many interesting questions yet to be examined about postretirement employment. We look forward to reading your research on work after retirement.

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