A new working life after retirement

In one branch of the SuperElite supermarket chain in Italy, the employee who runs the deli counter is 73 years old, having ‘retired’ over 11 years previously, from another, nearby supermarket. His key reason for coming back into the workforce is to support his three adult children, who are coping with unemployment, eviction and post-divorce financial problems. However, he also enjoys the work, and says, ‘I live for my clients, contacts with other people and smiles of people ... I will die if I stop.’  Despite this, however, complex and unclear regulation can be a barrier to work after retirement: the deli operator does not know if this new income will affect his monthly pension of €900 per month. 

Need to work, or want to work?

The numbers of people who are over official retirement age and yet working are increasing – rapidly – in the EU. The employment rate for people aged 65–69 rose from 8.4% in 2004 to 11.1% in 2013. The example above indicates some of the key motivations for older citizens pursuing employment in what has been traditionally seen as a time for leisure after a lifetime’s work.

Approximately two-fifths of people aged between 65 and 80 years who work do so purely because of financial need. For the majority, however, work is pursued for the contacts with colleagues and clients it offers, and for the opportunity to learn and contribute.

Barriers to getting back to work

The complexity of the picture of older working Europeans was highlighted by Eurofound research officer Hans Dubois at the recent 2013 National Conference on Ageing in Moscow. Retirees run the risk that they may not benefit financially from working, where pensions are income dependent.

Even where policy and legislation changes to make it easier for people to work after the age of 65, this may not be effective. In Denmark, for instance, a 2008 change in the law, which allowed retirees to earn up to a certain amount per year with no impact on their pensions, had little impact on employment rates – partly because many retirees did not know about it. 

While retirees may experience difficulties in re-entering the labour market, many employers are seeing the benefits of employing them. Employers are attracted by the loyalty they observe among post-retirement workers, their high levels of motivation and their willingness to be flexible.

In addition, companies want to have workforces that reflect the broader society – which has an ever-larger proportion of retirees. Millions of Europeans past retirement age are already working; in an environment where people are living longer, and concerns are growing about whether pensions can be both adequate and sustainable, retirement practices created for a different set of circumstances may need to be updated to match this new reality.

More of Eurofound's work on income after retirement is available online.

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