5 tips to successfully phase into retirement

You’re not ready to quit your job but you’d really like more leisure time. Guess what? You could have the best of both worlds.

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Let’s face it: the word “retirement” needs a new definition. Today’s older Americans are more active than ever. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the concept of “phasing in” retirement—basically working fewer hours at one’s current job or having a part-time job—is gaining traction in the workplace.

According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 14% of companies currently offer some sort of phased retirement plan, up from 9 in 2014. And with 54% of companies saying in a recent survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas that they’re concerned about losing the talent and skills of retiring workers, the trend is expected to increase. This fall, the U.S. government, for one, will start allowing federal employees to transition into retirement by halving their hours and benefits. “As millions of boomers approach retirement age, more employers may begin to consider phased retirement in order to counter the anticipated impact of the “brain drain” and loss of institutional knowledge,” says Nancy Collamer, founder of MyLifestyleCareer.com and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. “Phased retirement allows the company to continue to profit from seasoned talent, while simultaneously transitioning younger employees into positions of greater responsibility.”

It’s a win-win for employers and employees. But just how can you take advantage of this trend? Here’s Collamer’s advice:

Do your research.

If your company doesn’t have a phased retirement plan, look into how others in your field or position have done it—speak to friends and those in your professional network if possible. Most importantly, assess how critical your job skills are to the company; the harder it is to replace you, the stronger your case. What specific areas of expertise, or projects, could you offer to continue as you phase into retirement? Map out what your new job will look like and why it makes sense for the company as well as yourself. Make sure you have answers to these questions:

  • How can we keep you at half–time but not faulter on what work needs to be done?
  • Why is having you a half-time more effective than having someone else full time?
  • How can we structure the job so the arrangement is mutually beneficial?

Be flexible.

Phased retirement comes in all shapes and sizes, so find a schedule and timetable that works for everyone. If others at your company have similar arrangements, find out what has worked best for them. Don’t be afraid to think outside the part-time box—perhaps a per-project basis, simply reducing your client load, or even a seasonal gig works best.

Consider the financial impact.

You know your salary will be reduced, but what about the retirement, medical and other benefits offered by your employer? Consider how a phased retirement will impact you financially, including your social security benefits. Typically, your benefits will be reduced based on your income until you reach your “normal retirement age” (for example, if you were born in 1955, your NRA would be 66 years and 2 months). Also, since social security benefits are derived by averaging the last 30 years of earnings, going part-time could lower your benefits. Figure out the numbers with the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator or go to RetirementJobs.com.

Keep your skills current.

Whether  your phased retirement is more of a longer term plan, say five to 10 years as opposed to six months to a year, or you want to transition now, remember that your skills are a selling point to your employer and you need to proactively keep your skills current. Take note what’s required—classes, certifications, conferences etc. as well as skills other people in your industry have. Paying for courses or certifications may be expensive in the short-term, but can help you keep your job.

Strike a balance.

“As people power down, striking the right balance between holding on and letting go can be an issue,” says Collamer. Even though you’re not quitting cold turkey, it’s still a big change. Making sure your “new” position provides meaningful work you enjoy will help keep you fulfilled, but don’t forget to also line up meaningful activities for your off hours, too. “You don’t want to just sit in front of the TV,” advises Collamer. Make a plan to finally do the things you’ve always wanted to do—like a hobby, sport, volunteering, travel, or visiting the grandkids more!

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