How to negotiate a 'phased retirement' with your boss

If you’d like to cut back your work hours ahead of retirement, explain what is in it for your employer.

  • By Glenn Ruffenach,
  • The Wall Street Journal
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Q: I’m 63 years old and approaching retirement. I would like to cut back on my hours at work and leave my job in stages. My company, though, doesn’t offer that option. Have you talked with people who retired from work gradually? How did they do it? Any suggestions?

A: You certainly aren’t alone. Most employers don’t have a “phased retirement” option for older workers, which, frankly, is shortsighted. Companies that offer such an arrangement often find that it can help with succession planning, make it easier to pass on institutional knowledge (rather than have that knowledge suddenly walk out the door), and potentially reduce costs. Retaining talent is often less expensive than hiring and training new talent.

Even if your company doesn’t have a phased-retirement option, managers, in many cases, seem open to considering the possibility. With that in mind, some or all of the following steps might help.

Finances: A reduced schedule invariably means a reduced paycheck. (And, possibly, reduced benefits.) So, first you have to ask: Am I financially able to handle a phased retirement?

Flexibility: Most people think about phased retirement solely in terms of fewer hours in their current job. But why limit yourself to that approach? Perhaps there’s a different job in your company that lends itself to retiring in stages. Or perhaps you can retire—but do consulting work for your firm.

Mutual benefits: This is the most important part of the equation. You must figure out, before approaching your boss, how a phased retirement would benefit you and your employer. Perhaps the company is looking for volunteers for a project with a limited lifespan—say, two or three years. Or perhaps you switch to a role where you’re helping mentor or train people.

Take it slowly: Most managers don’t like surprises, which argues against walking into your boss’s office cold and announcing: “I plan to retire in a year, and I think doing that in stages helps both of us.”

Rather, this should be a series of conversations about the future—about your manager’s goals and yours. Ideally, after a few talks, you can introduce some broad ideas about phased retirement and, eventually, how those ideas might mesh with your boss’s needs and the company’s.

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