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Reluctant Retiree

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Queen Cersei Lannister: You have served the realm long and faithfully. Every man and woman in the Seven Kingdoms owes you thanks. But it is time to put aside your armor and your sword. It is time to rest and look back with pride on your many years of service. [...]
Varys: We have nothing but gratitude for your long service, good Ser. You shall be given a stout keep beside the sea, with servants to look after your every need.
Ser Barristan Selmy: A hall to die in, and men to bury me. I am a knight. I shall die a knight.

An older character who is still perfectly capable is suddenly faced with mandatory retirement, is despondent at being forced to give up a career and income they enjoy and is made to feel useless.

The other characters resolve to help the potential retiree and the plot usually concludes with the management cancelling the relevant policy and allow the older character to stay on board for as long as they are capable.

An even dirtier twist on the trope, which is not uncommon, is where the retirement is being forced, not because of a general policy, but directly for some political reason or another. Most frequently, it is because the retiree sitting on a position that is converted by an ambitious younger candidate who is not as skilled as him but has better personal connections, or it is because he is a Reasonable Authority Figure whose belief in the Good Old Ways makes him an obstacle for the new tyrant in charge. You may have an Elder Employee on your hands if the efforts to stay are successful.

For the opposite of this trope, see Mandatory Unretirement. Compare and contrast Empty Nest. Likely to suffer from Job Mindset Inertia.


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    Comic Books 
  • Setting aside the workplace theme, this is what happens in Watchmen when all capes except for the Comedian and Doctor Manhattan are forcibly retired by the Keene Act. Some are okay with it, some are not.
    • And Rorschach, once again proving he's on the extreme of everything, leaves a note on a dead rapist outside a police station which just says "Never".
      • Oddly enough for this trope, the only capes forced to retire are the younger ones; the Comedian is in his sixties by the time of the story (making him somewhere in his fifties when the Keene Act was put into place), and Doctor Manhattan is older than that (a year older, but still); all other are in their thirties or forties.
      • That's because the Keene act gave two ways for the capes to stop being vigilantes: Either work under government supervision (In which case they are technically no longer vigilantes) or quit. The choice of which option to take was theirs.
  • The supervillain Junkman in Astro City has this trope as his Start of Darkness.
    Is that it then? It doesn't matter what I can do, what I can think of, what I can create... I'm just suddenly obsolete? Oh, look at the calendar time to throw out all the old men, just like so much junk! They're fools, all of them! They don't realize what they had — What they've thrown away! But I'll show them! Hiram Potterstone will show them all!
  • One Golden Age Batman story had Batman and Robin spending a day helping the GCPD Emergency Squad. It was also the squad's sergeant's last day on the job as he had reached mandatory retirement age. At the end of the story, Commissioner Gordon says that due to a shortage of manpower because of the number of young men in the military (the story was written during World War II), they have decided to let the sergeant stay in command of the squad till the war ends.
  • Subverted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman ten years earlier under pressure from the federal government and claims that he's perfectly happy to be out of the superhero game. But if his dreams are any indication, his subconscious mind does not agree. Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon is facing mandatory retirement and isn't shy about saying how much he resents it. As the crime and gangs in Gotham spin out of control, Bruce eventually stops deceiving himself and becomes Batman again.
  • Subverted in Kingdom Come. Years earlier, Superman and the rest of the original Justice League chose to retire when the American people stopped supporting them in favor of Nineties Anti-Heroes who were willing to kill the villains. When most of the villains had been exterminated, the anti-heroes turned on each other and began fighting pitched battles across the country, with no regard for the collateral damage they were inflicting. After a Curbstomp Battle in Kansas goes horribly wrong and turns much of the Midwest into a radioactive desert, the original Leaguers come out of retirement to set things right. The anti-heroes don't go quietly.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars 3: This is Lightning McQueen's problem throughout the film, since a lot of his fellow veterans are being replaced by more high-tech racers, and suffers a really bad crash while trying to catch up to nasty newcomer Jackson Storm. Afraid he'll be forced to retire like his late crew chief and mentor Doc Hudson, he seeks advice from fellow trainer Cruz Ramirez, but scheming businessman Sterling gives Lightning the bet if he loses the first race of the new season at the Florida 500, he'll have to retire immediately, but if he wins, he can decide when he's done on his own terms. When the race comes, Lightning races for the first half of the race, but for the second half, he exempts and lets Cruz take his place, with himself as the crew chief, and she wins. As a result of both sharing the same number, both Cruz and Lightning share the win, Lightning wins the bet, and he decides to continue racing and becomes Cruz's mentor as well.
  • The Incredibles is all about superheroes forced into retirement by the federal government. Some, like Elastigirl, are content to put away their costumes and live as ordinary citizens. Others, like Mr. Incredible and Frozone, continue fighting crime clandestinely.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the entire bridge crew (except for Sulu, who has been given his own ship to command) is scheduled to retire in three months, and Kirk does not appear to relish the prospect.
    • In the next movie, Star Trek: Generations, the now-retired Kirk is required to attend the commissioning of the Enterprise-B, and chafes visibly at having to sit on the bridge as an observer while a much younger (and obviously inexperienced) man commands the ship.
    Scotty: Captain, is there something wrong with your chair?
  • Part of the story in Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach is that Commandant Lassard has reached retirement age and will have to leave the force after he returns from the conference in Miami. At the end, his superiors decide that he can continue serving as head of the Metro City Police Academy as long as he wants.
  • The Policeman: Avraham is a long-term beat cop who is in fact a pretty terrible cop, but who is still desperate to avoid retirement, which he knows may come in a matter of days as his last employment contract is expiring. He's credited with foiling a church robbery, which earns him a promotion to first sergeant—and then he's told that his contract still isn't being renewed and he's being retired anyway. It's basically as cruel as possible, with Capt. Lefkowitch disinterestedly handing Avraham a watch, which apparently they didn't bother to get engraved, and then telling him to get lost. Immediately after, and while Avraham is still right there, he starts talking with an underling about how they don't have enough manpower. A melancholy Avraham asks if he can visit the police station sometimes, and Capt. Lefkowitch says "Call first."
  • While technically just being Reassigned to Antarctica, Kendig in Hopscotch very obviously feels this trope is in full force, particularly given his Screw This, I'm Outta Here reaction to his new assignment.
  • What Happened to Santiago: The first scene has 65-year-old Santiago at his retirement dinner, fuming about being forced to retire and thinking how it will eventually happen to everyone else there. Later he applies for an accounting job at another company but is brusquely dismissed. Eventually he takes a part-time job as a security guard.
  • Played With in I'm Not Rappaport. One of the key plot points of the film is that Midge is being forced to retire, despite still being good at his job. He doesn't really want to retire, but isn't really interested in fighting it either because it's not really in his nature, but also because he's being offered a fairly generous severance package. Upon hearing about it, however, Nat will have none of it and decides to go to bat for him, despite his protests.

  • Discworld:
    • Sgt. Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment was past retirement age, but for constant changes of birth year in the records (and superior officers happy to claim no such person was there to receive discharge papers).
    • Captain Vimes in Men at Arms is retiring to get married. Since even his wife feels that not being a copper takes away his Vimesness, he instead becomes Commander Vimes. Subverted a few books later, when he starts making a conscious effort to slow down a bit and spend more time at home after becoming a father.
      • In the same book, Vimes worries about ending up like his old sergeant, who retired, then turned up the next day to check how everything was going, then began taking messages and doing odd jobs, and was eventually found dead in the Watch house six years later, with nobody even knowing if he had a family to inform.
    • Parodied in Snuff, where it initially appears that Lady Sybil and the Patrician have decided Vimes really does need to retire, and he's reacting as though there's a conspiracy to have him fired. It turns out this is actually his reaction to being given a two-week vacation.
  • Retired Witches Mysteries: Zigzagged with the title characters. They know they need to find successors to take their places in the coven, but they're not looking forward to life without magic, and Elsie especially doesn't like that her daughter Aleese has been rather vocal about trying to force her into retirement before she's ready.
  • In The Ship Who..., shellpeople partner with "brawns" for as long as seventy-five years before the brawns retire; normal humans are Long-Lived in this setting, but not nearly as much so as shellpeople are. In The City Who Fought, Simeon's last brawn has recently retired, a decision Simeon fought, and he thinks his brawn was reluctant - he'd submitted and then retracted a request to retire a few years before it became mandatory. Simeon's new brawn Channa Hap, unwilling to let Simeon run roughshod over her, suggests that he'd had a long career, actually wanted to retire, and just kept letting the more forceful Simeon overrule him. Simeon, replaying recordings to himself, is dismayed to notice microexpressions that back up her theory.
  • A Star Trek Strange New Worlds short story makes Boothby, the Academy groundskeeper, the reluctant retiree. In the end, his job is saved by the cadet who would've been his replacement.
  • Ser Barristan Selmy of A Song of Ice and Fire (and the TV adaptation) does not take it well when he's dismissed from the Kingsguard, who traditionally serve for life. He essentially declares "you can't fire me, I quit!", strips off his sword and armour there and then, and marches off to find a king worthy of guarding.
  • George Smiley from several of John le CarrĂ©'s spy novels actually manages to combine this with Mandatory Unretirement: his marriage is a disaster and he's at a complete loose end without spy work to do, but at the same time the job is utterly thankless. He's repeatedly forced out by backroom politics, brought back under protest to fix other people's screwups, and never seems happy or fulfilled either way.
  • In The King's Avatar, Ye Xiu is forced to retire in the beginning of the story when he no longer holds any commercial value for Excellent Era when the team is ranked second-to-last in the professional gaming world. In addition, because he has little to no money, he has to retire due to the contract termination fees being too expensive for him to just quit.
  • Several characters in Warrior Cats have resented having to become "elders", especially when their retirement is forced due to disabling injuries. At least one, Brightheart, managed to dodge forced retirement, because she was barely even old enough to be a warrior and could adapt to having lost a eye and ear.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Night Court episode "Flo's Retirement". Ironically, Flo only appeared in one more episode because Florence Halop died of cancer.
  • Richard's forced early retirement is a recurring theme in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, although he's more worried about spending more time with his wife than about leaving his career behind.
    • One of the jokes in the pilot is people congratulating Richard on his upcoming retirement... only to then immediately switch to condolences as they realize what this will mean for him.
  • Subverted in the Are You Being Served? episode "Goodbye Mrs. Slocombe" — in the end, the management expands the policy, sending two other characters to an early retirement (of course, this is all fixed in the Snap Back). The series also used it straight in a separate episode, where Mr. Grainger is terrified of receiving a cuckoo clock - the standard gift for retirees at Grace Brothers.
  • The Office (US) did an episode about this, with Michael Scott and Creed rebelling against ageism and forcing their boss, Ryan, to back off.
  • Barney Miller: In Part 2 of "Good-Bye Mr. Fish", Barney has a private office conference with Philip Fish, who is informed that he won't be returning to work the next Monday, informing Fish that according to the rules, he must retire at age 63. At first Fish is in denial, planning to discuss the situation with the commissioner. He has an emotional breakdown before finally and tearfully accepting retirement with reluctance:
    Fish: I'm a man with a record Barney, you think they're going to force me out? Not me! A man with my experiences? My accommodations? Not me!... [voice breaking] Not me.
  • Subverted on Scrubs, when Dr. Kelso is forced to retire at 65, but the hospital staff tries to make the board change their minds. With the support of Dr. Cox, they successfully convince the hospital board to alter their policy, but then Dr. Kelso immediately resigns on his own terms.
  • Vic Mackey's impending mandatory retirement ends up being a rather significant plot point in the sixth and seventh seasons of The Shield.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine devotes an episode to this ("Once More Unto The Breach"). Kor is now well over a century old, and the Klingon Defense Force denies his request to fight in the Dominion War. This is humiliating for Kor because Klingon warriors are supposed to die in battle while they're still able to fight. Eventually, he achieves his goal by incapacitating Worf and taking his place as commander of a Klingon ship that is embarking on a suicide mission.
    Kor: Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it's fresh from the vine. But don't live too long... The taste turns bitter... after a time.
  • One episode of BBC anthology drama The Street follows Frank, a mechanic who's just turned 65 and been forced into retirement. He's so despondent that he tries to commit suicide (but fails).
  • The Wire
    • Major Colvin is forced to take retirement as a Lieutenant (with reduced pension) after being made the scapegoat for his Hamsterdam experiment.
    • Marlo Stanfield seems at first glad to get out of the drug game, but then goes back to the corner...
  • Finch in Person of Interest season 4 meets a former school teacher made to retire due to budget cutbacks. At the end of the episode, she decides to find another teaching job.
  • There's an episode of Sliders, where Howard Stern's rhetoric has inspired the young to rise up and take the reins of control away from the "old", implementing a national mandatory retirement cut-off at 30 (also, presumably, amending the Constitution to allow people under 35 to be eligible for Presidency). This world is decidedly youth-centric, with the elderly (anyone over 30) being forced to live off what they have made before that since social security is virtually nonexistent (that was one of Stern's main arguments). The episode's villain, who is approaching 30, decides to flee to Canada, where the mandatory retirement age is 40.
  • Samurai Gourmet downplays this. Although the opening of the series features Kasumi forgetting that he's retired, the rest portrays him as embracing his well-earned free time with just a little wistfulness and difficulty adjusting. What really makes Kasumi a Reluctant Retiree is that it takes effort to embrace his new role within Japanese Politeness: The old man is supposed to be one person in the room who can speak out of turn and make life easier for everyone, and he hasn't exactly trained for that. Fortunately, he's read a lot of samurai stories.
  • The Boys (2019): Jonah Vogelbaum. Despite living in an opulent mansion, he'd go back to 80-hour work-weeks in a second.
  • The first episode of One Foot in the Grave shows Victor on his last day as a security guard. In addition to not knowing what he's supposed to do now, he's bitter that, after all the hours he put in, the company has decided that his job could be done just as well by a recorded message.


  • The Tennyson poem Ulysses is made of this trope. Facing the prospect of old age, and missing the life of adventuring that he gave up to reclaim the throne of Ithaca, Ulysses resolves to Put The Band Back Together and set out for one last great adventure.

  • A tragic example can be seen in Charles, Prince of Wales, in the 2014 play King Charles III. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles moves to involve the monarchy more actively in the state of British politics with disastrous results. In an attempt to show his dedication to the democratic process and the importance of freedom of speech, he dissolves the current session of parliament and orders new elections — a move that tanks his reputation so thoroughly that it threatens to destroy the institution of monarchy in Britain. His sons William and Harry corner Charles and threaten to effectively disown him and leave (taking his grandchildren with them) if he does not abdicate to William, who argues that he and his wife are the only members of the royal family who can undo the damage Charles has caused. Charles reluctantly agrees, not wanting to be cut off from his family for the remainder of his life. That doesn't mean he likes doing it though — tears course down his face and his hand trembles as he signs the abdication document. He had waited to be King for literally decades, and his reign had only just started when it was taken from him by the people he loved the most.

    Video Games 
  • Overwatch: Reinhardt was one of the founding members of Overwatch and a dedicated soldier, often acting as The Heart to the team until he was forced out of the force due to his advanced age. Firing him was a bit of a bad idea as without his influence, Overwatch quickly became oversaturated in corruption and was shut down in disgrace.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Raccoons has a twist to the plot in the de facto Grand Finale where Cyril Sneer has a serious health episode due to overwork and his age and retires in favor of his son, Cedric. Eventually, Cyril still wants to help his son so badly that Cedric is forced to all but physically restrain him lest he kill himself with overexertion. Eventually, the episode ends with Father and Son compromising with Cyril partially coming out of retirement as a partner of Cedric who presumably will carry the bulk of the workload.
  • An episode of WordGirl, "Granny's Book Club" had Granny May forced to retire, due to the by-laws of the supervillain union all the villains belong to. However, the rules stated she could stave off retirement if she captured Wordgirl and presented her to the rest of the villains, so she set up the titular book club to capture the word-loving hero.
  • The Batman: The Animated Series episode "Mean Seasons" had Bruce Wayne trying to force this on an otherwise competent but elderly manager at Wayne Corp. After the episode's plot makes him reconsider the value of experience and his own aging, he lifts the "mandatory" aspect of the company's retirement policy. When he informs the manager of this change, the man is visibly excited that he will be able to continue working until he is ready to make the choice to retire on his own. The man also tosses away his toupee, deciding he doesn't need to hide his aging anymore.
  • Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond only retires from being Batman when health troubles make continuing exercise a futility. He is rather bitter about this. It takes having a heart attack during a hostage rescue, forcing him to resort to holding the criminal at gun-point, to drive the point home that he just can't keep being Batman at his age.
  • Peter's dad in Family Guy is definitely unhappy about being forced into retirement. Some time later, he sneaks into the factory at night in order to keep working. At the end of the episode, Peter finds him a new job as the Pope's bodyguard.
  • An episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series features Robert April, who was the first captain of the Enterprise (NCC-1701), and his wife Sarah, who was the ship's first Chief Medical Officer. Commodore April, now a Federation ambassador, has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, and is not happy about it. The Aprils are on board as passengers when Enterprise enters a parallel universe where people age backwards at an accelerated rate, and they save the ship by taking command after everyone else has regressed to childhood or infancy. In recognition of this, Federation officials agree to review his mandatory retirement and consider letting him continue to serve as ambassador.
  • What starts the plot of Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost is Mystery Inc. being forced to retire after being sued for botching an investigation and getting an innocent man harassed. Fred especially isn't ready to give up just yet and is painfully saddened. Shaggy and Scooby, on the other hand, invert this trope and kick back with Hawaiian shirts and fruity drinks nearly from the get-go.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Marge Gets a Job," Homer and Marge attend the retirement party of Jack Marley, an elderly power plant employee, whose final speech is him begging not to be retired because he loves his job as he has no family, and his dog had recently died. Mr. Burns interrupts the speech so that the band can play "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" while Marley gets tossed out by Burns' goons. When Marge gets the job vacated by Marley's retirement, Smithers dismisses the other applicants, Marley included.