We’re not retired – but what are we? Unretired? Second Acts? OWLs?

16 August 2018 By Victoria Tomlinson

We’re not retired – but what are we? Unretired? Second Acts? OWLs? image

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already come to the conclusion that retirement is an outdated concept.

The Economist has a brilliant article looking at what you call this generation.

This stage of life, between work and decrepitude, lacks a name. ‘Geriactives’ errs too much on the side of senescence. ‘Sunsetters’ and ‘nightcappers’ risk being patronising. Perhaps ‘Nyppies’ (Not Yet Past It) or ‘Owls’ (Older, Working Less, Still earning) ring truer.”

When I was trying to find a name for Next-Up, the friend who came up with this suggestion also offered ‘We’re Not Dead Yet’.

While quite funny in one sense, there is a growing issue around this – and we’d love to find the solution.  We carried out research earlier this year for our launch and when testing out the survey, one person said, “I couldn’t do your survey.”

“It freaked me out – your first question asked for my employment status (full-time, part-time, unemployed, retired etc), but I am not any of these. But what am I?  According to the survey, I am a nobody, a write-off. It really depressed me.”

So finding a word for this new generation of active unretirees is really important – and the government and market researchers may need to take note.

What does retirement mean to you?

When we compiled our research looking at how people use or want to use skills in retirement, we found that 42% of retirees agreed with Dame Judi Dench (83), who famously said, “Retire? What’s that word?”

In Dench’s line of work, she has been able to continue adding value and choosing the work she does, without (we assume) compromising her integrity and standing.

For many, the word retirement is laden with assumptions and stereotypes. It has connotations of pipes, slippers and knitting. While this might be fine for some people, for those who still feel they have a lot to offer and want to use their skills in ‘retirement’, it can be frustrating.

Americans favour the expression ‘encore career‘ and talk about things like ‘second act careers,’ which author and semi-retirement coach Nancy Collamer defines as “the work you do in between leaving the ‘Big Career’ and fully retiring.” 

In one blog for PrimeWomen, I talked about the need for a word like ‘unretirement’ – a short way of saying, “I’ve just left corporate life and I’m taking time to meet people and think about what I want to do next”.

What’s your reality?

Management consultant Jon Woolmore talks about issues around retirement or unretirement; he looks at the dangers of internalising perceptions around being useful, productive, income-generating, visible or important that have developed at a societal level and letting them affect how we see ourselves in later life.

“Without some form of structure and satisfaction, any sense of loss can be reinforced by these perceptions as retirement becomes a day-to-day reality,” he says.

Research from the University of Manchester and King’s College London found that around one in four retirees in the UK return to work or unretire, mostly within five years of retiring. However, many researchers define the word unretirement as being retired and subsequently recommencing paid employment, or beginning full-time work following a partial retirement. The FT writes about the unretired “coming back to work in droves”.

But these definitions and the idea of switching from retirement and back again don’t quite fit with the people we speak to who are leaving high-profile careers and moving into new careers which don’t necessarily fit our old tick boxes.  The issue is you may be offering your skills in all sorts of ways – helping charities, young people, an adviser to others – but if you aren’t being paid for this help, what are you? If you are a non-exec, you would probably tick the ‘employed’ box – but again if you aren’t being paid, what does that make you?  And if you are a consultant you will probably tick ‘self-employed’.

So what should we call it? Is unretirement the right word? Is there a better term that conveys someone’s skills in retirement that doesn’t mean they’re part of the full-time workforce?

What do you think? Is there a more suitable term we could use that encompasses all those needs and emphasises your skills in retirement? How you do describe yourself when people ask what you “do”?

Join us on 4 September to hear about Eureka! and the latest project from the world-renowned children’s museum. Hear more about the skills they are looking for – along with great networking!  Book here.

Author Image

Written by Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.

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