As many Americans enjoy greater longevity and a healthier old age, they are seeking more flexibility in their work schedules.
Seven years ago, Steve E. Norwitz, who was then a 61-year-old executive at the Baltimore mutual fund group T. Rowe Price, proposed a scaled-down work schedule that would reduce his duties.
“I didn’t figure it would go beyond two years,” said Norwitz, who started working at T. Rowe Price in 1977. In fact, “10 years ago, I thought I’d retire at 60.”
Now 68, he is still at it. Instead of managing the media relations department, as he once did, Norwitz now works on specific projects and takes 13 weeks off a year. He accepted a 25 percent cut in pay in exchange for more personal time to spend with his wife, a retired teacher and tutor, and to attend cultural events and travel. Since then, they have cruised the Rhine and visited places like Ecuador, China and Slovenia.
Like an increasing number of older Americans, Norwitz opted for a “phased” retirement that scales back work over a period of years instead of a cold-turkey withdrawal from the workforce.
Most Read Stories
- Asked & Answered: What happened to Tom the Guessing Doorman at Costco?
- The right really was coming after college next | Danny Westneat
- One of last great Washington train rides coming to an end
- Seahawks-Jaguars game ends in ugly brawl, and an altercation with Jacksonville fans VIEW
- Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it.
As many Americans enjoy greater longevity and a healthier old age, they are seeking more flexibility in their work schedules. Many of them simply want to stay connected to their workplace and colleagues while others are seeking an improved work-life balance with more time for involvement with their families and communities. Others need to work or have to build up their nest eggs.
“Few employers have formal programs,” said Helen Friedman, director of global workforce analytics and planning for Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm. “Phased retirement can look quite different across organizations, although the biggest challenge employers are trying to address is simple: replacing people with critical skills.”
Phased retirement may be offered in bits and pieces, like fewer hours or off-site work. Nearly half of human resource professionals surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade organization, said they “offered reduced hours or part-time positions to older workers.” About 40 percent said they “hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers.”
According to an AonHewitt/AARP survey published last year, roughly 80 percent of workers in their 50s or older said they would be interested in the opportunity to stay in the workforce in a more limited capacity past their planned retirement date.
“They are picking up in momentum,” said Roselyn Feinsod, senior partner in the retirement practice at the insurance and human resources firm AonHewitt and an author of the AARP study. “It’s part of a broader approach to offer flexibility in the workplace.”
For workers who are winding down their careers, the opportunity to make a gradual and productive departure has great appeal. Beyond the need to sustain their income, many enjoy the immersion of work and the learning and social opportunities it offers. And a tapered exit can help avoid some of the tensions that may arise at home when plunging into full-time retirement.
“It helps to have outside interests and your spouse’s support,” Norwitz said. “When I first broached the subject with my wife — who had already retired years before — her immediate response was: ‘OK, but if you think you’re going to sit around here playing the piano all day you have another think coming.’”
For employers, phased retirement not only helps them retain experienced employees whose skill sets are not easily replaced, but also keeps valued people around to help guide younger employees. It is costly to replace experienced workers — ranging from about $7,000 to $32,000, depending on the industry — the AonHewitt/AARP study found.
Since there is no standard template for phased retirement, those considering the move can often customize their arrangement. One of the many variations of phased retirement is leaving the full-time workforce, then re-entering on a project-specific or part-time basis, or in a specialized role.
Mike Mouton, 71, a former petroleum engineer for Halliburton, the oil field services company, left his company in 2009 when he was 65, only to be asked back to serve in a recruitment role. These “boomerang” retirees are often asked to perform jobs well suited to their experience, skills and personality, although on a limited basis.
When Mouton returned to his new company role — Halliburton was expanding and needed new engineers — he worked mostly from home for about three years, then returned to full retirement.
“When the company first contacted me after I retired the first time, I felt there was a degree of boredom in my life,” Mouton said. He was playing golf several times a week at the time. “They caught me at the right time. It was an opportunity for me to stay in the game. It really felt like a good fit. I also felt I was providing a service and a chance to renew acquaintances.”
Is phasing out for you?
So if you are interested in a phased retirement for yourself, how should you proceed? Start by figuring out whether you can afford to live on a reduced income.
If you want to cut back at 62, for example, you will be eligible to receive Social Security, but at sharply reduced levels compared with the disbursements upon retiring at 66, now considered the full retirement age. A better move would be to postpone drawing Social Security as long as possible. Social Security will give 8 percent more in payments for every year after full retirement that you delay taking benefits, up to age 70, leading to a significantly larger income for the rest of your life. That is one of the best insurance policies you can buy.
Also, you will not qualify for Medicare until you are 65, which could mean facing higher health insurance costs depending on how your employer handles your coverage during a phased retirement.
“Every year you work, it adds two more years to your assets,” said Kristi Sullivan, a Denver-based certified financial planner who has advised her father. “It’s important to plan ahead, preferably five years in advance. Whether you can do it depends upon the individual, their assets and their health.”
Talk with a trusted adviser like a financial planner or an accountant, or sign up for one of the online services that can provide a computerized “Monte Carlo” simulation to see how long your nest egg will hold up under different scenarios.
If the numbers still look good, then decide what you want from your employer.
How many hours do you want to work, and how often do you want to be in the office? How much of a salary cut will you consider? Can you work remotely? When do you want to be completely out of your company’s sphere?
Finally, you will need a yardstick to measure how well your new retirement transition is working. Feinsod suggests that you fully discuss with your employer the “roles and skills required, measures of success and a rate of comparable pay.”
If you find a workable arrangement, which could require some fine tuning, you may find that the flexibility offers a chance to balance work and leisure well into your 60s, 70s or beyond, without going overboard on either.