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How to Get Your Boss to Allow You a Phased Retirement

Follow these 5 steps from a workplace flexibility expert

By Cali Williams Yost

Recent surveys have found that many people working full-time in their 50s and 60s would like to move into a “phased retirement” through their employer. So how do you get your boss to let you shift from full-time to part time work? You have to take the lead and see the possibilities that benefit both you and your employer.

That’s what Rachel did, albeit after an initial detour through the land of full retirement.

A Win/Win Arrangement

She initially retired a year ago as the comptroller of Rose Builders, a small New Jersey-based construction company, thinking she was ready for the next chapter of life, without work. But 12 months later, Rachel was bored and missed her job. She fantasized about returning part-time for two or three years, so she tested the idea to her former boss, Ted, during one of their periodic check-in calls.

With cautious hesitation, Rachel asked: “Ted, would you ever need me to work on projects 15 to 20 hours a week remotely from my home office?” Without skipping a beat, he replied: “Ever need you? When could you start?”

With that enthusiastic response, Rachel’s phased retirement with her former employer began. It was a win/win for Ted and for her. Thrilled by his unexpected ability to get more great work from an employee he admired, Ted asked Rachel: “Why didn’t you say something before you left? We could have worked it out.” She responded: “Honestly, I didn’t think I could, and I didn’t know how.”

She’s far from alone. According to a Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey, there is a wide gap between what employees believe is possible about phasing into retirement and what employers say they’re willing to consider. Only 21 percent of workers said they believe their employers would support them shifting to part-time work, but 48 percent of the employers surveyed said they could.

5 Steps to Arrange a Phased Retirement

I’ve spent more than two decades in the work and life trenches as a flexible workplace strategist and author, and here are the five steps I’ve seen work best to arrange a phased-retirement:

1. Initiate the conversation. That’s because, chances are, your employer will not — for three reasons. Your boss doesn't know your goals and expectations for retirement; doesn’t know what type of work you’d want to do and, perhaps most importantly, doesn’t want to run the risk of being accused of age discrimination by bringing up the subject.

Like Rachel, if you initiate the conversation and lay out your goals and ideas, you just may get a positive reaction.

2. Be creative and solve a problem for your employer. Ask yourself: What is something my company or nonprofit struggles with consistently and how could retaining my talents through a phased retirement solve that issue?

For Ted, Rachel was the perfect person to handle long-ignored special projects because she understood the firm’s systems. Other examples of creative, flexible phased-retirement plans I’ve seen that solved business problems:

  • A former newspaper editor who works two, half-days a week mentoring younger reporters on how to write high quality stories quickly
  • A former plant manager who works only during the three busiest months of the year, as a quality control inspector
  • A former benefits manager who works on a project basis covering for employees on parental or medical leave in the group she used to oversee

3. Use work flexibility to achieve your goals. According to a recent survey my company — the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit — co-sponsored with Citrix, 96 percent of full-time U.S. workers said they had some degree of work life flexibility and 33 percent said they do most of their work from a remote location. The flexibility is there.

But working remotely isn’t the only type of work flexibility to consider. There’s also project-based work and working either reduced or non-traditional hours.

Think about how you could use work flexibility to create a phased retirement position allowing you to do your job and have more time and energy for the other parts of your life.

Before Rachel retired, she lived 10 miles from work and came into the office every day. But since moving to the beach, a 90-minute commute each away from the company, she knew that kind of trip wouldn’t be possible. Once she realized she could handle her project work remotely, Rachel started to entertain semi-retirement more seriously.

4. Learn how to use and leverage technology. Because Rachel knew how to access the company’s billing software remotely, Ted knew she could get the job done effectively even if she wasn’t in the office. Rachel was also comfortable with video conference calls and the company’s internal instant messaging system. All of this allowed her to seamlessly plug in and interact with the team from the shore.

Before proposing a phased retirement plan, determine if the job you want to do requires mastery of certain technologies. If so, get up to speed prior to presenting your proposal, and you will have removed any concerns from your boss about effective and efficient communication and coordination.

5. Redefine success for yourself to match the flexible phased-retirement plan you hope to implement. Many attempts at phased retirement fall apart because people keep viewing success the way they always have, in terms of money and prestige. But you need to instead think about what would make you happy in a semi-retired work reality.

Chances are you will make less money than you did before. On the other hand, you’ll now have more flexibility to focus on the other parts of your life, and there’s great value to this new mix of money and time.

Too often, valued employees assume retirement means completely walking away from their place of employment. But with initiative, creativity, flexibility, a smart use of technology and a redefinition of success, you can partner with your employer for a phased-retirement that benefits everyone.

Cali Williams Yost An expert on managing work and life for nearly two decades, Cali Williams Yost is the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @caliyost. Read More
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