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How to persuade retirees back to the workforce

Who are the three groups of older workers and what are their motivations and priorities?

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Mike Hoffman Senior Consultant

Is it possible to persuade people to ‘unretire’? In an economy with record low unemployment, and with employers struggling to hire the numbers they need to grow – could encouraging older people back into the workforce be the answer?

The government certainly thinks so. Although childcare stole the headlines in this year’s Budget on 16th March, it was also quietly announced that £63m will be invested into programmes to encourage retirees over 50 back to work, creating “returnerships” and skills boot camps. Details are sketchy at this stage, but it is sending a signal.

According to a recent report, 86% of those aged 50-54, and 65 per cent of those aged 55-59 are considering a return to work, driven back into the workforce by the rising cost of fuel and foods.


of those aged 55-59 are considering a return to work
Source: Handelsbanken Wealth & Asset Management, 2022 

But while these “push factors” will help fill some of the employment gaps, is there anything employers can do to persuade more older workers to join them?

After all, there’s a lot of plusses to hiring those in the ‘retirement zone’: they’re usually very experienced and, in a lot of cases, can provide reassurance to customers of ‘life experience’. They’re also more likely to be loyal if treated well, rather than building a long-term career.

But what do older workers want?

According to The Centre for Better Aging, older workers’ priorities are work that is:

  • personally meaningful
  • flexible 
  • intellectually stimulating
  • sociable
  • age-inclusive and offers any adjustments needed for health conditions and disabilities. 

Older workers are more likely to stay in work if they think that their work matters, their employer supports them, and their needs are taken seriously. They value opportunities for learning, mentoring others and career progression.

These factors support a positive work-life balance and strengthen connections to employers, colleagues and customers. Fulfilling work helps to promote self-esteem, confidence, engagement and performance.

When they say they want their needs to be taken seriously, that includes training and development. Even if they’re not aiming at becoming the new CEO, according to ONS data, there is a greater appetite among 50-60 years olds to learn something new and develop skills than any other age group.

How do you engage and attract older workers?

So, when we think about how to engage and attract older workers to your organisation, there are two key considerations.

Design jobs that meet their needs.

First, the most important thing is: how does the role you need to fill stack up against this wish list? Because unless your offer shows you understand what their priorities are, no amount of clever messaging or targeting will help you succeed.

And while it is helpful to understand these broad needs, we mustn’t forget that people are not defined by their age. And large numbers of people in this group are still very much active in the workforce – so while the government wants to focus on those currently outside, we can’t ignore the large number of people who are already working. 

Tailor your communications to motivations and priorities.

So, our second consideration is: How do we shape real communications to real people, instead of thinking of a certain age cohort as a single, collective mass?

Our research has identified three key groups within the over-50 demographic that we can segment by motivation and priority – and it’s helpful to think in terms of these broad groups when shaping both your offer to the audience and the message to convey it. 

The three groups of older workers

  1. Current older workers
    What drives them: Those actively looking for a full-time permanent job. For this group, the primary focus of work is income, and they are not planning to retire soon.

    What you need to tell them about: Competitive salary/wage; opportunities for learning and development; flexible working options.
  2. Returners
    What drives them: They are semi-retired/retired but now looking for a new challenge and/or a bit of supplementary income due to financial pressures. ​​​​​​

    What you need to tell them about: Flexible working options; supportive management; making social connections; opportunities to mentor and learn.
  3. Career changers
    What drives them:
    Someone who is currently working but is looking for a better opportunity to use existing skills developed over time, flexibility and career development.

    What you need to tell them about: Opportunities for career progression; opportunities for learning and development; competitive salary/wage; flexible working options.

We can help with your communications

At ThirtyThree, we’ve a lot of experience of helping clients in all sectors develop strategies for reaching underused or overlooked groups. From building propositions and strategies to award-winning creative campaigns, we can bring the insights and understanding you need to find new audiences.

If you’d like to talk about how we do it, why not get in touch?


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