As Ed Bailey approached 55, he started dreaming about retiring a little early and going out on his own.
After 30 years at a desk – first with the provincial government in collections and then, after being privatized, for HP Advanced Solutions Inc., a Victoria-based information and technology outsourcing company – he wanted something different from his high stress job in billings and collections.
His company made the transition easy with a phased-in retirement option that allowed him to move away from the phones into a less stressful environment where he could mentor young and new staff. For a half year prior to retiring, Mr. Bailey was also allowed to adjust his hours for an extra day off each week.
“That gave me more time to think about what I was going to do,” says Mr. Bailey, 55, who retired from HP Advanced Solutions last year and recently launched his own lawn services company.
“Doing a different job for the last six months I was there let me share my experience with other employees and mentor them. It was a nice way to wind down instead of bang, just being out the door.”
Greg Conner, vice-president of human resources for HP Advanced Solutions, understands the business case for keeping valuable knowledge around longer. The company, named one of the 2012 Top Employers for Canadians Over 40, has incorporated phased-in retirement options since 2007 to better manage its succession plan.
“We’re high tech and have people with specialized skills, so we don’t want to just lose them,” Mr. Conner says. “This gives people more options to stick around longer and keeps them sweet. It says we care about you, really want you working here and are willing to do alternative work arrangements to keep your expertise around. That has value to the employee as well as the employer.”
When experienced workers retire, a company can experience a knowledge deficit. With large numbers of baby boomers approaching retirement age, many forward-thinking organizations on the Top Employers list offer phased-in retirement options as a means of keeping talent longer.
The aim is to transfer years of on-the-job knowledge to other staff. Phased-in retirement options can include alternative work schedules without a break in employment, job sharing, part-time work or seasonal employment for peak periods, as well as having people who were already retired come back on an extended or temporary basis.
While these work options are relatively new to many companies, Dalhousie University in Halifax has had hundreds of employees successfully take advantage of phased-in retirement over the years. At Dal, it’s not just for older employees but for all employees, depending on the needs of the individual and the department.
“Typically it looks like reduced duties, reduced hours, reduced salary, but at the same time, the pension contributions continue from the department that they work for so they don’t take a hit at all on their pension,” says Janice MacInnis, Dalhousie’s co-ordinator of organizational health.
The employees pay pension contributions only on their reduced salary while the department pays contributions as though they were working full-time. Plus Dal pays the difference between the reduced amount that the employee pays and what would have been required on a full-time basis.
“We want people to continue to be engaged with and feel good about the workplace, so we want them to feel good about the arrangements put in place to support them as they leave. It’s just how we operate here,” Ms. MacInnis said.
Agrium Inc., a Calgary-based producer of agricultural products and specialty fertilizers, introduced phased-in retirement options in 2009 to mitigate the loss of a significant number of its work force who were close to retirement age. David Barnes, senior director of total rewards for Agrium, sees it as a win-win situation, particularly in Alberta’s hot talent market.
“We were careful to set terms that this had to be good for the business and something the employees were interested in,” Mr. Barnes says. “The whole deal was for it not to be a losing proposition for an employee to step away from full retirement back into part-time work. Most employee questions are around pensions. We researched it quite a bit to ensure we were onside with pension regulation. We were fortunate in that we’ve gravitated to a defined contribution pension arrangement over the years so that for the most part, we’ve been able to make accommodations without interrupting peoples’ pension income.”
One potential obstacle he sees is if there were a mismatch between people interested and the ability to accommodate them within the work environment. So far, just the right number of employees have come back – typically about 15 of Agrium’s total work force of 2,419 at any given time.
“Up to this point, it’s been very positive from the business perspective and the employees on the receiving end,” Mr. Barnes says. “There’s not been a huge uptake, but those tens of people made a lot of difference in allowing us to bridge any gaps and to mentor and develop the young.”
Mr. Barnes emphasizes that employees need to be fully informed about what phasing toward retirement means to them and their families before making a decision. To this end, Agrium provides a retirement planning course.
Agrium employee Darwin Serink wishes he had taken the course before he retired. After 38 years on the job and financially secure, Mr. Serink retired for one year at 62 and found it wasn’t what he expected. Now 65, he has been back at Agrium for nearly three years and is loving it. As an operations consultant with the wholesale technical services group in Fort Saskatchewan, he works about 30 hours a week, travels North America for his job and has the flexibility to fit in holidays as needed.
“I wish I’d taken a course earlier because it would have made me question if I was ready for retirement,” Mr. Serink says. “I expected to have more adventures. I missed people because I had been involved with people every day. I think you really have to know what you want when you retire.”
He considers working with young people to be the best part of being back on the job.
“My body isn’t young but my mind stays younger because of them,” he says. “It works for both sides. They mentor us from a young person’s point of view and we can mentor and help them with the experience of the past.”
As if resuming his career at Agrium wasn't enough, he and his wife also operate a little tree farm to keep them active at home.
"I take some time off to help her when the work really gets heavy," Mr. Serink says. "We've got golf clubs but we don't really like golfing."
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