Last week, Patrick Pichette, the 52-year old CFO of Google, announced he was retiring “in order to spend more time with family.” In a letter, posted fittingly on Google+, Pichette wrote: “We give a lot to our jobs. I certainly did. And while I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life.”
I found it a thought-provoking post and if you haven’t already read it, I recommend you do so. His boss, Google CEO Larry Page, called it “a most unconventional leaving notice from a most unconventional CFO.”
How Retirement Announcements Have Changed
Beyond shining a spotlight on work-life issues, this very public and personal letter got me thinking about another important question: In 2015, what is the “proper” way to announce your retirement at work?
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Of course, this didn’t used to be much of an issue. Until recently, most people worked until 65, got a gold watch, collected their pensions and glided off into the sunset. Everyone in the office knew, more or less, when to expect people to retire.
But in today’s world, when few of us work at companies with clear retirement policies, the norms are increasingly blurred. Some people retire in their 50s; others keep working into their 80s. And even when we do finally retire, many of us will choose to eventually “unretire” to pursue a second-act career elsewhere. (For more on this trend, you might want to read the excellent new book, Unretirement, by my Next Avenue colleague, Chris Farrell.)
3 Questions to Consider
This evolving dynamic prompts a few interesting questions about retirement announcements:
- How much advance notice should you give your employer?
- How do you word your announcement to leave the door open for second-act opportunities?
- What’s the best way to share your announcement with your extended online community?
Fortunately, I didn’t need to look far for answers. Last week, my brother David, 61, also announced his upcoming retirement — in his case from a job in media and communications for a major university. Like Pichette, David is a bit young to “retire” (the national average for men is 64), but he hopes to use this time to travel, spend time with his wife and recharge before pursuing a yet-to-be-determined second act.
(MORE: 6 Questions People Ask on Day 1 of Retirement)
Of course, David’s announcement did not garner the same attention as Pichette’s. But precisely because his was more of the normal variety, I thought you’d find his story instructive. So I asked David to share his insights, and being the wonderful big brother he is, he graciously agreed.
5 Key Steps to Take
Here are the five key steps he outlined for making a retirement announcement:
Step 1: Provide your management with ample lead time. There are no hard and fast rules as to how much notice is expected, but in general, you want to give management enough time to ensure a smooth transition — without leaving so much time that you’re perceived as a lame duck.
What this translates to in practical terms varies from situation-to-situation: While a six-week notice might be sufficient for lower-level workers, three to six months (or longer) is more appropriate for senior-level or hard-to-replace employees.
In certain fields, such as academia, seasonal hiring cycles might be important to consider. And of course, if there are contractual requirements or company policies that govern your timing, you’ll have to abide by those when calculating your exit.
(MORE: When Men Take Time Off for Their Family)
David gave his employer nearly six months notice. “I knew my boss would probably want to do a national search for my replacement,” he says. “So at the end of last year, I told him I was tentatively thinking about retiring in June. But at the same time, I told him I wasn’t 100 percent certain and reserved the right to change my mind.”
His boss agreed to keep the conversation confidential and said: “If you change your mind for any reason, that’s fine.” In turn, David promised to provide him with a final answer by spring break, which he did. In the interim, his boss began formulating tentative plans in private.
“It was a huge weight off my shoulders after I told him,” says David. “I’d been thinking about this seriously for so long and saying it out loud made the decision real.’
Step 2: Share the news with your staff and close colleagues in person. David wanted his staff to all hear the news at the same time, so he made his announcement at his weekly staff meeting last Monday before his boss made the news public. He opened the meeting by saying, “In our business, we don’t wait to bury the lead. So I’ll tell you the lead right now: I’m stepping down in June.”
While his staff was caught off-guard, they were grateful to hear the news together, as a group and in person.
Step 3: Send personal notes to important colleagues. David knew that word of his retirement would spread quickly, and that as a result, he wouldn’t be able to tell everyone significant to him in person. So the weekend before his announcement, he drafted personalized e-mails to a select group of co-workers and professional colleagues. He then saved and time-stamped the e-mails, which were then released immediately following the staff meeting.
In total, David wrote personal notes to 70 people. Each contained the same core message, but he took the time to personalize all of them.
David says he was blown away by how much people appreciated his personal approach. “If I have one single piece of advice, sending personalized messages would be near the top of the list,” he says. “People really seemed to treasure these notes.”
Step 4: Post your news to your extended network. Like so many of us, David has a wide network of friends and colleagues he stays in contact with primarily via social media. So after sharing his news in person and via e-mail with those closest to him, David posted a short note about his retirement on Facebook and LinkedIn. He said they were essentially the same, although the LinkedIn message was a bit more formal.
Here’s what he wrote on Facebook:
Some news: I am stepping down from my position on June 30. I have loved this job and the fabulous people I work with. After more than 13 years, though, I’m ready for a new challenge. I’ll be treating myself to a sabbatical, including extended trips in the United States and overseas with my wife. Then, we’ll see what’s next. Stay tuned — and thanks to everyone who has joined me on this wonderful ride.
Note that David framed his retirement as more of a “sabbatical” and made very clear that he expects to move on to “new challenges.” This was a smart way to let people know that down the road he’ll be receptive to second-act conversations and possible work offers.
Pichette also communicated his interest in a next chapter by writing, “…and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.”
Step 5: Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. David says that reading all the responses to his notes and postings felt a bit like he was attending his own funeral. “By the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted,” he notes, “but in a good way.”
David recognizes that his life at work during the coming months will be bittersweet. One of the things he feels a bit guilty about is that he is leaving his staff. “I have a wonderful team that I work with,” he says. “I really care about them as people and they are understandably concerned about what happens next.”
But he also recognizes that change is good and knows that the members of his team will adapt successfully over time.
He expects his emotions will only intensify in the months leading up to his June exit date.
“The day after I walk out that door, I no longer have a title after my name,” he told me. “It’s a thought that is both exhilarating and humbling.”
And then after a long pause, David added: “But you know what? That’s okay. I’m ready to be just me.”
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