The New Boomerang Workers: Rehired Retirees

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By Chris Farrell

You've no doubt heard about boomerang kids who return to their parents' homes in their 20s (maybe you have one). But there's a growing group of boomerangers who are typically in their 60s: retirees who return to work part-time or on a contract basis at the same employers where they formerly had full-time jobs.

If you'll be looking for work during retirement, you might want to consider avoiding a job search and becoming one.

Employers That Rehire Their Retirees

A handful of employers have formal programs to rehire their retirees. The one at Aerospace Corp., which provides technical analysis and assessments for national security and commercial space programs, is called Retiree Casual. The company's roughly 3,700 employees are mostly engineers, scientists and technicians, and Aerospace is glad to bring back some who've retired.

"With all the knowledge these people have, we get to call on them for their expertise," says Charlotte Lazar-Morrison, vice president of human resources at Aerospace, which is based in El Secundo, Calif. "The casuals are part of our culture."

The roughly 300 Aerospace casuals (love that term, don't you?) can work up to 1,000 hours a year and don't accrue any more benefits (the company's retirees already get health insurance). Most earn the salary they did before, pro-rated to their part-time status, of course.

Why Aerospace Corp. Brings Back 'Casuals'

The "casuals" program lets Aerospace management have a kind of just-in-time staffing system. "It allows us to us to keep people at the ready when we need them," says Lazar-Morrison.

Ronald Thompson joined Aerospace's casuals in 2002, after retiring at age 64. He'd worked for the company full-time since 1964, in program management, system engineering, system integration and test and operations support to the Department of Defense. "It's a really good way to transition to retirement," he says. "You need both the physical and mental stimulation to keep you young."

Thompson worked up to the 1,000-hour limit for the first couple of years. Now that he's in his mid-70s, he's cutting back to about 10 hours a week, mostly mentoring younger Aerospace employees. I asked Thompson when he planned to stop working. "I guess my measure is when people won't listen to me anymore," he laughed. "That will happen."

At MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government, about 400 of its 7,400 employees are in an optional, flexible "part-time-on-call" phased retirement program. These part-timers can withdraw money from MITRE's retirement plan while they're working.

Why Some Employers Don't Have Rehiring Programs

Why don't most employers do what Aerospace and MITRE do?

For one thing, it takes a considerable investment in resources to set up a program for former retirees. So the ones who can most afford it are those with skilled workforces who offer customers specialized knowledge.

For another, some employers are wary of getting trapped by complex labor and tax rules. For example, the Internal Revenue Service generally requires firms with retirement plans to delay rehiring retirees for at least six months after they've left.

But benefits experts believe boomeranging can make a lot of sense for retirees and the employers where they had worked full-time.

"I think this is really logical away to go back to work, so there is a lot of potential growth if it is made easy," says Anna Rappaport, a half-century Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and head of her own firm, Anna Rappaport Consulting. "The legal issues need to be clarified and made easy."

Outsourcing to Bring Retirees In

A growing number of companies are outsourcing the task to bring in some of their retirees. The independent consulting firm YourEncore, created by Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly, acts as a matchmaker between corporations looking for experts to parachute in and handle pressing problems and skilled "unretirees" wanting an occasional challenge and part-time income. YourEncore has more than 8,000 experts in its network; 65 percent with advanced degrees.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of America's "Blue Bring Back" program lets managers request a retired former employee if there's a project or temporary assignment requiring someone who knows the company's culture and procedures. Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group manages the program.

Tim Driver, head of, plans on getting into the business of making it easier for employers to re-employ their retirees. His research shows that this type of program works best for companies needing ready access to talent with unique, hard-to-find skills and flexible schedules, such as insurance claims adjusters. When a storm hits, Driver says, insurers need to quickly dispatch trained property-damage adjusters who are knowledgeable about their claims processes and policies.

"It's an attractive approach for companies that want to have people accessible but not on their books [as full-time employees]," he says.

The option of participating in an formal outsourcing arrangement is likely to grow with the aging of the baby boom population and their embrace of Unretirement. In the meantime, this kind of work deal "will be mostly ad hoc," says David Delong, president of the consulting firm Smart Workforce Strategies.

How to Get Yourself Retired in Retirement

How can you get a part-time gig with your former employer when you retire?

Delong recommends broaching the topic while you're still on the job. (My dad always used to say that six months after you leave an employer, people start forgetting you; they've moved on and have figured out how to get along without you.)

"Raise the idea with the boss," says Delong. "Don't assume they wouldn't be interested in having you back part-time. The worst they can do is say, 'no.'"

Taking a job with your former employer in your Unretirement can be a win-win situation for you and your once-and-future boss. After all, you have the knowledge and the skills to do the job well and the employer knows who you are and what you can do.

I suspect this kind of boomerang arrangement will become a bigger slice of a boomer movement toward flexible, part-time work in retirement.
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