A New Phase of the Employee Life Cycle: Unretirement

By Sharlyn Lauby

When I worked in the hotel industry, the company’s labor attorney made a lunch reservation in my hotel’s restaurant every New Year’s Day, and at the start of each year he and his wife would talk about their future over a long lunch. I liked the idea of this annual discussion so much that my partners and I borrowed it (with some modifications) when we started ITM Group. As small-business owners, we knew it was important to think about what we wanted our retirement to look like (and when we wanted it to start), so we made certain that topic was on the agenda.

Through those conversations we realized that we wanted to have something to do instead of have a traditional retirement. That realization led to the launch of our new blog, Unretirement Project, which has connected us to many individuals who have similar ideas about their own unretirement. Some enjoy working and want to continue contributing (albeit on a reduced schedule) as they age. Others would like to pursue encore careers or are thinking about going back to school and learning something new. And others have decided to become freelancers or consultants.

Organizations have a huge opportunity here. With unemployment at record lows, companies need to find ways to tap into the talents of individuals who are thinking about retirement and unretirement. In many organizations, retirement has become synonymous with resignation, and when someone tells his or her manager, “I’m planning to retire at the end of the month,” the organization has to scramble to try to capture a departing employee’s knowledge and find his or her replacement.

One of the reasons that the business world finds itself in this predicament is because unretirement hasn’t yet been considered part of the employee life cycle (unlike, say, transfers and promotions), the business world hasn’t talked about it often and openly and made plans for it. Companies can embrace unretirement as part of the employee life cycle by considering these three strategies:

  • Recruiting: Remember, not all jobs are necessarily full-time jobs. When work needs to be done, the organization needs to remember the “buy, build, and borrow” approach and ask, “Does this work require a full-time position?” It’s possible that the organization could hire a part-time employee, an on-call worker, or a freelancer to get the work done.
  • Benefits: Consider a benefits package for contingent employees. In most organizations, only full-time employees receive benefits. As companies build contingent workforces, they might want to consider offering some sort of benefits package for part-time employees. This type of incentive could go a long way toward improving recruiting and retention among this group.
  • Training: Give managers the tools they need to engage contingent workers. The key to working successfully with an unretired workforce is to treat them as though they’re not retired. Managers need to engage and train part-time employees and freelancers to the same degree to which they engage and train full-time staff. The company still expects high levels of performance from all of its workers, regardless of their retirement status.

Organizations cannot afford to let their talent simply retire and take years of knowledge and experience with them. By encouraging employees to unretire for a few years, the organization could create a real win-win situation both for themselves and for their employees. As when managing all the other phases in the employee life cycle, however, the implementation of an unretirement strategy takes planning and open, honest conversations about the future.

Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (www.hrbartender.com), a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.