Is there a word/phrase to describe the situation when a person doesn't work anymore, but they haven't retired yet? They may be still officially employed but with no actual responsibility, possibly too old and about to retire? Like a senior professor who is too old to lecture, holds no chair anymore, but is still officially employed at the academy?

Thank you all for the answers. On light duties and pre-retirement period are best for my context. I'm sure many will find the other ideas useful as well.

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    Sometimes we might say a person has been put on "light duties" in the run-up to retirement. But many people seriously wouldn't want to do reduce their working hours in the final years because company pensions are often based on "final salary schemes" - if they go part-time, they might find their eventual pension rate significantly reduced. Aug 25, 2019 at 13:45
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    Rather an ageist post if you if you had used race instead of age you would have had the P.C. Brigade all over you. You could also use "extended leave", it is often used in this situation as well as when someone has been unofficially suspended.
    – Brad
    Aug 25, 2019 at 14:08
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    For the professor, the adjective would be "emeritus." Aug 25, 2019 at 15:15
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    Show me someone who uses the expression "PC Brigade", and I'll show you someone I just know I won't like. Aug 25, 2019 at 16:52
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    Not quite it, but closely related is Garden Leave en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_leave
    – Xavier
    Aug 26, 2019 at 3:09

7 Answers 7


I favor pre-retirement Merriam

of, relating to, or occurring in a time before retirement

As in: OED

1990 Intercity Apr. 27/1 Increasingly firms have come to realize the need for pre-retirement courses to help plan the available time.

To retire, one must make some plans - take some steps. This stage include ones finances, habitation, health and other life's needs . The root word retire is retirer, "to withdraw."


A job that requires little or no work yet which still produces income is called a sinecure:

1 : an office or position that requires little or no work and that usually provides an income

In the context of somebody about to retire, and who's been relieved of responsibilities, you could say something like the following:

Pending their retirement, their employment had turned into a sinecure.

  • Actually, I've got the same word in my native language (synekura, it comes from Latin, via French). Doesn't it bear the negative connotation of neglectfulness, easy money for doing nothing?
    – shogun
    Aug 25, 2019 at 14:41
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    @shogun The word itself is neutral. Some people would look at it positively, others would look at it negatively. It would depend on the context. In terms of neutrality, it's the same thing as being an honorary member, or having an honorary degree. Those are both things that are given to you, even though you haven't done (or do) what people normally do to acquire them. Whether being awarded those things is positive (you deserve it) or negative (it's something "fake") is a matter of interpretation and context. Aug 25, 2019 at 14:55

Back in my military days we called someone in a situation like that a "short-timer", or "short" - i.e. they had only a relatively brief amount of time left at a duty station, they had been relieved of all critical duties by their replacement(s), and were performing non-critical administrative tasks until they retired or transferred elsewhere. Conversations regarding this situation might be something like:

Hey, we've got to get some non-trivial-but-not-mission-critical-task done. Who's available?

Eh, give it to Bob, he's short.


Hey, Bob, how much time you got left 'til you transfer?

I'm like two weeks short, man. Just waitin' to sliiide my way out the door!

Yeah, well, the old man sez you're to do such-and-so, and tout suite!


  • A short-timer is indeed scheduled to ETS, retire, or PCS in a short time; however, terminal leave covers the situation when one is still technically on active duty, yet has already out-processed and has no responsibilities left before the actual separation date is reached.
    – Davo
    Aug 26, 2019 at 14:51

A job title with no responsibilities can be called honorary.

3a : conferred or elected in recognition of achievement or service without the usual prerequisites or obligations

b : unpaid, voluntary

However, that’s ambiguous because it can also mean an unpaid position. The practice of removing someone from their job by promoting them to a new title with no duties is called honorary retirement.


Other phrases for not quite retired:

  1. "In the departure lounge" (also applies to not quite laid off).
  2. "Running out the clock" or "Running out the odometer".

"Sinecure" is usually valid too, but beware it is not taken to mean one of the "jobs for the boys/girls". (Where the girlfriend/mother/son of the boss may be on the payroll).

  • 1
    I've heard both of those as synonyms for coffin dodgers rather than in employment terms
    – Separatrix
    Aug 26, 2019 at 7:29

EDIT: I reread the question and see that I was mistaken. Semiretired is someone who does work, just not much. I overlooked the fact that the question was about someone who doesn't work at all. I'll leave my answer below, in case it has any relevance.

I suggest semiretired, which I've heard used pretty often. The context was usually someone who wanted more time for personal interests and hobbies, such as travel and outdoor pursuits. A common scenario would be a person who started his or her own business, and has since mostly handed the day-to-day operations over to the management team. However, according to Merriam-Webster, it means "working only part-time especially because of age or ill health", which sounds to me like pretty much exactly what you were asking for.

The other answers don't satisfy me. Pre-retirement refers to a period of preparation for retirement, especially financial preparation. It doesn't necessarily mean working any less. A sinecure is normally a position that never required work, as opposed to one that used to and now doesn't. People can be on light duties without being close to retirement.


Another possible word is "pre-pensioner". Example: http://www.mondaq.com/x/685178/retirement+superannuation+plans+pensions+schemes/PrePensioner+Stability+Rights+Extended+to+Those+in+the+Private+Sector+but+Conditions+Apply

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