Phased Retirement

In certain industries, such as aerospace, defense and national security, the workforce includes many older, highly educated employees who are eligible for early retirement. Because of the need to retain these employees' expertise, employers seek to retain them and facilitate the gradual transfer of their institutional knowledge. Many companies have done so through formal "phased retirement" programs, which are voluntary programs sponsored by the employer to enable workers to transition to retirement by continuing to work for the same employer in a mutually beneficial manner while receiving an employer-provided pension and/or a government-provided benefit, such as Social Security. Unfortunately, existing government policies encourage these individuals to retire early, despite the fact that they continue to provide value to their companies and, in many cases, have no Desire to leave. These policies:

  • prohibit retirement payments to active employees from a defined benefit plan before age 62 or the plan's "normal retirement age," whichever is earlier, and from a defined contribution plan before age 59½;
  • require a break in service, often six months, before employees who want to receive partial or full retirement benefits may return to work for their former employer; and
  • prevent active employees from accessing early retirement subsidies under retirement plans while continuing to work in a full or part-time capacity.

While the current recession has relieved some of the pressure, the disconnect between policies and the needs of employers and employees threatens to deprive many of the country's industries of skills needed to preserve national security and compete on a global scale. HR Policy Association believes that government policies should enable employers, on a voluntary basis, to offer flexible and innovative phased retirement programs. Employees eligible to participate in a phased retirement program should be given the option of doing so based on their personal circumstances, needs and desires. Employers should be able to offer, change and discontinue phased retirement programs based on their business needs. Any attempt to mandate phased retirement programs is likely to cause overstaffing, inefficiency and employer resistance to using the program. Similarly, a requirement that employers continue an established phased retirement program would be just as detrimental. Allowing employers to offer and employees to participate voluntarily will ensure that phased retirement programs have the greatest chance of success.