5 Tips for Managing Return-to-Work Retirees

Supervising return-to-work retirees is common for government managers. A fair number of public servants retire in accordance with their retirement systems’ rules, yet many of them return to the workforce.

Retirees come back to public service for a variety of reasons. Some planned on coming back long before they retired. They took advantage of retirement system rules allowing them to receive an annuity and a government paycheck (a practice called double dipping). They could have retired as soon as they reached retirement eligibility in order to maximize the number of years with two incomes.

Other retirees wanted a new challenge. Perhaps they got bored or found their new lifestyle not to their liking. Medical studies have shown intellectual stimulation plays an important role in older people’s mental and physical health.

Some retirees need the income to make ends meet. Perhaps they miscalculated in their retirement planning or had unexpected expenses pop up.

No matter what brings a retiree back to work, managing one presents unique challenges. However, following these tips helps managers avoid such challenges and resolve them when they arise.

Treat them with respect.

mature woman working in office
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It may be self-evident, but something managers need to keep in mind when they have return-to-work retirees is that these people are among the oldest in the office. In government, people can retire young, but that is a relative youth. Even the youngest retirees in government are still in their 50’s.

We’ve all been taught to respect our elders, and this holds true when older workers are your organizational subordinates. Nothing can spoil a manager-employee relationship like disrespect. No one wants to work for a disrespectful manager, and return-to-work retirees will not have it. They’ll put forth minimal effort, mentally check out or leave abruptly.

Life is too short to work for someone who doesn’t respect you. If you as someone who hasn’t retired feels this way, just imagine how much more intensely a retiree feels.

Defer to their expertise.

Retirees have a lot to offer when they come back to work. When they come back to the same organization, they bring back the institutional knowledge that walked out the door when they retired. This is a gift. If you did not facilitate knowledge transfer to other employees, that golden opportunity has come back around.

Put them to work on challenging assignments. They will appreciate this implicit endorsement of their skills and capabilities.

Ask them their opinion when you have a decision to make. You don’t have to follow their advice every time, but you’ll be wise to consider their counsel carefully if you have a different take on a situation. Just asking their opinion is an expression of valuing their expertise and wisdom. 

Help them develop professionally.

With all this respect and deference, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking return-to-work retirees are so good they can’t get any better. That just isn’t true. Even though they may not be around for more than a few years, return-to-work retirees still want to be invested in by their managers and their organizations.

Help return-to-work retirees develop professionally. The most important aspect of this is asking them how they want to develop and what you as their manager can do to help them make that happen.

They probably won’t ask for much. Perhaps they’ll want a training class or two to round out skills they wish they had. For example, someone who rarely worked with numbers might want to take a few days of Microsoft Excel training to help them understand others’ work better. Some may want to take more training in areas where they are already strong. This is good, too, because they recognize one of their strengths and want to make it even stronger.  

Each employee is responsible for his or her own development. A manager’s role is to facilitate development opportunities. Do not neglect return-to-work retirees in this facet of management.

Don’t judge them by their age.

No one wants to be judged purely by their outward appearances. Managers should not prejudge return-to-work retirees by ageist stereotypes. Even though someone may come back to the workforce at an advanced age, it isn’t right to assume this person has not kept up with technology. For all you know, the person is an early adopter when new technology comes out and enjoys figuring out the benefits and applications new technology can bring to the workplace.

Whatever you think you may know about older generations, make sure you square your assumptions with how your employees actually are. Get to know them before evaluating them. 

Accomodate the ways they work.

Each generation has different ways they like to work. This is generally true, but again, don’t make assumptions based on someone’s generation. When compared to younger workers, older workers tend to prefer coming into the office over teleworking and talking face-to-face or by phone rather than emailing or texting.

No matter how old or young your employees are, a manager needs to be flexible in relating to employees. If business needs do not preclude it, allow people to work in ways that work best for them.