Phased Retirement is a Win-Win for the Employee and the Organization

Are you lurking around this site even though you are not retired yet? Or maybe your spouse is not retired yet but you wish she were. Retirement is not the easiest concept to wrap our minds around, especially when it feels like falling off a cliff. Unfortunately, most companies today are not in tune with what their baby boomer employees are thinking and feeling about retirement, and even worse…managers and HR professionals are not asking them about their thoughts and plans. Doesn’t that seem absurd when one-fifth of the U.S. workforce has passed or is nearing retirement age?

What can you do about this if you are one of those baby boomer employees who tries, daily, to envision a retirement scenario in which both you and your employer get what you need and want? It will probably take some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking on both of your parts, but people all over the country are starting to work things out with their employers in a positive and thoughtful way.

What many baby boomers want is a way to leave their current full-time work obligation gradually – without feeling like they are traitors or yesterday’s news. This often involves a new way of looking at how, when, and where your job gets done. Some companies are calling this Phased Retirement. It’s a concept that is catching on in some employment sectors. It allows retirement-eligible or retirement-ready employees to ease into retirement without feeling like they are falling off a cliff.

When Lee, a professor at a San Francisco university was 68 he found himself itching to travel and get more involved in his lifelong passion, Zen Buddhism. However, Lee had been teaching for over 40 years and still loved most aspects of his job at the university. He was nervous about abruptly stopping that work, so rather than retire from the university altogether, he worked out an arrangement in which he could gradually lighten his teaching load and take one semester off per year. Over a five-year period, Lee continued to decrease his teaching and doctoral advising. Today, Lee has settled into a pattern of teaching one class per semester and taking summers off to travel. As his life evolved, Lee became more immersed in the activities he loves and can now see himself leaving the university for good. He predicts that in about another year he will be ready to quit entirely.

Lee is a good example of someone who negotiated a “phased” retirement program with his employer. Universities are not strangers to this idea. They are, in fact, leading the way in this area and other industries could learn by taking a page from their policy books. Some have, though they may look a little different than the university model. One such company is Monsanto. They started a Resource Reentry Center that matches former Monsanto employees with temporary assignments after separating from the company. It allows participants in the program to utilize the skills they acquired in their careers for similar temporary job or they can explore an entirely different role.

Another company, The Aerospace Corp. runs a “Retiree Casual Program” in which previous employees can stay connected to the company and work part time, thereby enabling them to ease into retirement slowly. One other, the Bon Secours Health System in Richmond, VA, allows employees eligible for retirement to move to part-time schedules without any termination of employment.

In 2014, employers are still just waking up to the reality of what it will mean to lose their baby boomer employees, many of them in key leadership positions with a tremendous accumulation of company knowledge and history in their heads. Unlike the few mentioned above and a handful of others in the vanguard of this movement, most organizations are only beginning to experiment with ways to keep valuable intellectual capital from walking out the door. Your company may or may not have some prior experience with this, so you may be the one to first broach the subject.

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  1. Nice post. One of the big problems with Boomers, however, is that many of them form their identity based on their job. So, retiring means losing their identity as well as their job. I’m at the tail end of the Boomer generation, and when my time comes, I’m jumping into retirement with both feet. No phase-in for me, even if my employer offers such a program. When I got my first job at 16, I knew working was not for me. I’ve been looking forward to, and saving for, retirement ever since.

  2. My company offered a phased retirement and I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t ready to fully retire but I was feeling a little burned out after 30 years. The company offered a phased retirement over the next few years working 2-3 days a week continuing with the work I was performing and also training a few new people. It worked well for me.

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