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Phased Retirement

The concept of phased retirement makes sense and is gaining strength. For employees not ready to abandon the workforce suddenly after working every day for 30 or 40 years, phasing in offers a chance to ease into retirement. From the employer side, phased retirement makes sense in promoting a smooth transition.

As boomers near retirement age, employers have a choice. They can risk losing institutional knowledge, skills, and customer-relations prowess all at once through traditional retirement. Or they can continue to reap the benefits available through a pool of skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced workers over a much longer time period through phased retirement.

Another benefit of phased retirement is the continued good health of mature workers. The UCLA Center on Aging Events found that key components of successful aging include the ability to stay physically active and to remain mentally engaged. Staying connected to the workforce is one of the best ways of doing just that.

Phased retirement generally means moving employees toward retirement over time. While this is most readily accomplished through reduced work hours, AARP Best Employers have adopted a number of phased-retirement programs designed to better meet the needs of both employees and employers. Half, or 50 percent, of the 2008 Best Employers have such programs. Some examples are outlined below.

National Institutes of Health – At the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency located in Bethesda, Md., employees may reduce their hours over time to gradually move into retirement. In addition, NIH has begun a trial program that allows an employee to return to the agency within one year of his or her retirement. With this approach, retirement is not a “be all-end all” decision. Employees can test the waters of retirement to see if they are truly ready.

Mercy Health System – Mercy Health System, located in Janesville, Wis., has implemented a “Work to Retire” program that offers several phased-retirement options. Employees age 50+ can choose to work reduced hours, to share their jobs , or, in certain cases, to work at home and continue to be eligible for medical and other benefits—as long as minimum hourly requirements are met. Once employees reach age 55, they are eligible to receive benefits for the entire year, as long as they work at least 1,000 hours during the year. So an employee could work for six months of the year, take six months off, and still be eligible for benefits.

Central Florida Health Alliance – Central Florida Health Alliance, located in Leesburg, Fla., offers a “Summers Off” program that is similar to the “Work to Retire”program available at Mercy Health System. “Summers Off”is designed to meet the needs of “snowbirds,” who spend the winter in Florida and the summer in their homes in the North. As employees near retirement age, they can choose to work part of the year and have the summers off. Central Florida Health Alliance also works with employees to adjust their schedules and work status as needed to phase employees into retirement. The Alliance alsohelps employees make the transition into roles with more accommodating work hours.

Stanley Consultants – At Stanley Consultants, a consulting-services firm located in Muscatine, Iowa, about 75 percent of retirees take advantage of the phased-in retirement program. In many cases, an employee works reduced hours for a period of time, retires, and continues to work in some capacity. For example, a Stanley worker who retired in 2003 at age 69 continues to work on special projects. The firm has given that retiree an office with a computer, a phone, and an e-mail account. Since “retiring,” this employee has collaborated on several memorable projects, including a nine-week assignment in Iraq.

The concept of phased retirement makes sense and is gaining strength. For employees not ready to abandon the workforce suddenly after working every day for 30 or 40 years, phasing in offers a chance to ease into retirement. From the employer side, phased retirement makes sense in promoting a smooth transition.

As boomers near retirement age, employers have a choice. They can risk losing institutional knowledge, skills, and customer-relations prowess all at once through traditional retirement. Or they can continue to reap the benefits available through a pool of skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced workers over a much longer time period through phased retirement.

Another benefit of phased retirement is the continued good health of mature workers. The UCLA Center on Aging Events found that key components of successful aging include the ability to stay physically active and to remain mentally engaged. Staying connected to the workforce is one of the best ways of doing just that.

Phased retirement generally means moving employees toward retirement over time. While this is most readily accomplished through reduced work hours, AARP Best Employers have adopted a number of phased-retirement programs designed to better meet the needs of both employees and employers. Half, or 50 percent, of the 2008 Best Employers have such programs. Some examples are outlined below.

National Institutes of Health – At the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency located in Bethesda, Md., employees may reduce their hours over time to gradually move into retirement. In addition, NIH has begun a trial program that allows an employee to return to the agency within one year of his or her retirement. With this approach, retirement is not a “be all-end all” decision. Employees can test the waters of retirement to see if they are truly ready.

Mercy Health System – Mercy Health System, located in Janesville, Wis., has implemented a “Work to Retire” program that offers several phased-retirement options. Employees age 50+ can choose to work reduced hours, to share their jobs , or, in certain cases, to work at home and continue to be eligible for medical and other benefits—as long as minimum hourly requirements are met. Once employees reach age 55, they are eligible to receive benefits for the entire year, as long as they work at least 1,000 hours during the year. So an employee could work for six months of the year, take six months off, and still be eligible for benefits.

Central Florida Health Alliance – Central Florida Health Alliance, located in Leesburg, Fla., offers a “Summers Off” program that is similar to the “Work to Retire”program available at Mercy Health System. “Summers Off”is designed to meet the needs of “snowbirds,” who spend the winter in Florida and the summer in their homes in the North. As employees near retirement age, they can choose to work part of the year and have the summers off. Central Florida Health Alliance also works with employees to adjust their schedules and work status as needed to phase employees into retirement. The Alliance alsohelps employees make the transition into roles with more accommodating work hours.

Stanley Consultants – At Stanley Consultants, a consulting-services firm located in Muscatine, Iowa, about 75 percent of retirees take advantage of the phased-in retirement program. In many cases, an employee works reduced hours for a period of time, retires, and continues to work in some capacity. For example, a Stanley worker who retired in 2003 at age 69 continues to work on special projects. The firm has given that retiree an office with a computer, a phone, and an e-mail account. Since “retiring,” this employee has collaborated on several memorable projects, including a nine-week assignment in Iraq.

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