Eighteen months ago, Tom Harvey retired. Then this year he changed his mind and unretired. He is far from alone. In the UK, according to research in Aging & Society, 25 per cent of retirees return to work, about half of these within five years of retirement.
It defined unretirement as "reporting being retired and subsequently recommencing paid employment, or beginning full-time work following partial retirement (working fewer than 30 hours per week)". A 2010 study found that rates were similar in the US.
Such research suggests that retirement may no longer be a permanent state. Instead, it is a process.
For Harvey, his retirement a few years before the UK state pension age of 65 was highly desirable after four decades in corporate life — first in advertising, then financial services communication. It gave him a chance to walk his dogs and ride horses. But his brain craved stimulation. "You do miss the intellectual engagement of work and the debate around difficult issues," he says.
The financial aspect is also important. "It would be nice to have more dosh."
Today, the 63-year-old is offering consultancy to small businesses, particularly helping to mentor directors and senior managers on communications.
His reaction reflects that of others, says Loretta Platts of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University and a co-author of the report. "Some people have a retirement shock. This isn't what they thought [it would be]."
The study defined retirement as people saying their main activity was "retired". Platts says that others may disagree, and may fix on an age, perhaps after 65. But in her view "analysing the data in this way means that many, [or even] most retirement transitions are actually missed".