From the great resignation to the great return?

From the great resignation to the great return?

Back to Blogs

Within the recruitment industry the impact of the great resignation is still being felt. A shortage of skilled talent, unfilled positions, and difficulties finding the right candidates are all daily challenges.

What if the solution to the current situation came from an overlooked group of workers returning to employment? The last few years have seen retirement rates increase but now many who made that decision are making the choice to re-enter the workforce.

For firms this could be a great opportunity to engage with a talent pool of experienced staff but, with age discrimination still a problem within recruitment, it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.

The impact of the great resignation

The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a wave of resignations and retirements, with more than 2 million people retiring in the first 18-months alone. While some of those would have retired at that age anyway, there’s no doubt that others took a more opportunistic approach to embrace early retirement. Research by the Office for National Statistics found that since March 2020 three in five over 50s retired earlier than planned.

For businesses this influx of departures combined with the shift in the workforce’s expectations and requirements from employers has left many struggling to recruit. A staggering 78% of employers are having difficulty filling skilled roles due to lack of talent. And the situation doesn’t show any signs of abating.

Are quiet returners the answer?

But there is one factor that’s slowly changing. The rise in the cost of living, volatile financial markets and uncertainty around pensions is starting to prompt many who took early retirement to look at returning to the workplace.

The Over 50s Lifestyle Study of 43,250 individuals in August 2022 found 58% of those aged 50-65 would consider returning to work. But for many it’s not that simple. Recruiting older employees with significant experience can feel threatening to younger staff and lead to conflict. There’s also the possibility that their skills aren’t as adaptable or up-to-date. These issues aren’t insurmountable but they need to be clearly addressed as for firms struggling to attract and retain employees, these returners could be an asset to their business.

Experience, knowledge and real life know-how

Those who have retired but are looking to come back to the workforce, have that wealth of knowledge and life experience that can be hard to replace. That’s what makes them such an asset to businesses and why, particularly in light of the current skills shortage, firms should be looking at how to attract and retain this important group. Hiring and retaining workers 50 and over helps everyone from the individual worker to the business to the wider economy. It’s a business decision that didn’t exist in the same way 10 years ago but now could be the difference between a successful firm and one that’s going out of business.

With the market in the employees favour and a shortage of skilled workers making it more difficult to recruit, ignoring a subset of the working population based on age is short-sighted. Beyond life experience older members of the workforce can be more focused, more committed and more resilient. Providing a balance to more inexperienced staff and playing a valuable role in a team.

They also bring with them real life experiences. That’s something that can’t be fast-tracked. But that real-life know-how of both relevant experience and softer skills - communication, overcoming challenges, management, is something that successful firms need.

Older workers can also provide guidance, training and mentorship to younger members of staff. Helping to retain, not only people but also valuable knowledge, ways of working and thinking within the business. Often the idea of older and younger employees is that they’re pitted against each other. With the right culture it can be the opposite. Both groups of workers can support, teach and encourage the other to learn new skills and bring out the best, creating a workforce like no other.

Ageism in the workplace

While financial pressures may have driven many to return to work, it’s important to understand the specific reasons motivating each individual. Without the structure and routine of work some struggled to fill their days or lacked the social connections they previously had. While others may have missed the productivity of working life.

Being able to support those returning to the workplace to get back into the rhythm of work is key to successfully integrating them with your team. Ignoring their specific needs, or creating barriers preventing this large segment of the workforce returning, can be a sign of ageism in the workplace.

For many the prospect of returning to work is intimidating. Research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Demos found 36% of 50-69 year olds polled think their age puts them at a disadvantage when applying for jobs.

When you consider the experience that’s in that segment of the workforce it’s clear that steps need to be taken to reassure older workers of the opportunities available to them, whether they’re returning from retirement or choosing to progress their established career.


Removing bias where possible is the first step to welcoming returners. Whether that’s software that anonymises details such as name, dates etc. Or it’s identifying organisational bias against age and then rolling out training specific to your business and industry. This is a longer-term strategy and relies on continual training and development for new starters.


Hybrid working is a huge advantage for older employees who might not want to be in the office for 5 days a week. As many don’t want to work full time it also opens up the ability for you to buy a more experienced hire for fewer days a week, giving you more experience for your budget. Working with individuals to find the working style that supports them and suits the firm creates a more viable partnership for returners and their employers.


For firms in doubt about how to engage with, or support, returners the key is to be proactive and ask the workforce what they want, how to go about it and what they need from their employer. Working with returners and older workers will help keep them engaged and working for longer.

Previously there was the belief that we work, then we retire. They’re two distinct states and they don’t mix. This generation of ‘returners’ are showing that’s no longer the case. There’s a different way forward that they’re inventing. It’s about choice. Choosing when to work and who to work for.

It’s the next stage of the ‘Great Resignation’ and the shake up of working norms that we’re still feeling. But what it offers employers is opportunity. Opportunities for firms struggling to recruit to capitalise on years of experience for their own gain. As long as employers are prepared to be flexible in their approach to an older workforce including hybrid working, health and safety, diversity policies and support. Dismissing the idea based on reasons such as ‘culture fit’ is clear age discrimination and needs to be challenged.

What’s apparent is that this is a trend we’ll continue to see develop and could become the answer to the skills shortage many firms are experiencing.

Related articles