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Reluctant Retirees: A Workforce Problem Facing Higher Education

HERC Star
By Higher Education Recruitment Consortium
August 28, 2017
chairs on beach

Right now, millions of Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, triggering a mass exodus from the workforce.

This large exit - known as the ‘Silver Tsunami’ - is expected to continue at an increased rate for at least the next decade. However, if you were to look at the stats for higher education, you’d see almost the opposite happening: Baby Boomers and older workers are refusing to step down.

These individuals - many of whom are way past retirement age - are working longer than ever before, decreasing the amount of turnover in the upper levels of universities and colleges across the country.

In HR, we call these individuals reluctant retirees, and they can pose a pretty big problem for institutions. So much so, that some companies in the private sector have done some pretty wild things to get their older employees to leave, sparking waves of new lawsuits claiming age discrimination.

So, what’s to be done about the problem?

Well, there are many ways an organization can increase retirement rates. The first step, though, is understanding why the individual is reluctant to retire in the first place. Here’s a quick tip: it’s probably not about the money.

Though retirement security in the US has decreased over the last couple of years, many workers in higher ed do, in fact, have the necessary savings required to retire. This is likely thanks to retirement plans like TIAA Cref, which many organizations use to help their employees save for their exit from the workforce.

The real problem is actually with the social and emotional side of retirement. Think of it this way: you’ve worked a job for years on end, making friends, having a structured day, and giving your life meaning.

When retirement looms, you - and many others like you - have no idea what to do with all of that newly acquired free time, leaving you feeling lost and causing you to simply postpone retirement because it’s a lot easier than dealing with all of that stress.

For HR, this means that you should discuss possible retirement options with your staff before they push past the typical age of retirement. In fact, it’s a good idea to start speaking with them early to ensure that you can aid them through any of the problems they might have.

This is where retirement lifestyle planning comes in. By making a plan for your employee that showcases how they can spend their retirement doing whatever makes them happy and gives them meaning.

These plans typically involve first figuring out what about retirement is giving them pause and then tailoring the plan to individual.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

Offering Phased Retirement Options

One of easiest ways HR can reduce retirement stress is to use a phased retirement plan that allows employees to step down gradually instead of all at once. At 55, every employee should have a conversation with HR about retirement options and plans, which helps negate the awkwardness of bringing it up later on.

During this meeting, HR should discuss how phased retirement works and what benefits will be given to the employee. By doing so, you can set up the employee to consider phased retirement long before its time for them to use it. Not only does this give them an out, it also helps reduce their levels of stress because a plan is already in place.

Social Event Invitations

Another option is to allow and invite the outgoing employee to university events even after they are out of the workforce.

This plan is free and easy for universities to use and hits on the social side of retirement. After all, many employees have been at the institution for a long time and they still want to continue those friendships and connections. By allowing them - and encouraging them - to stay in touch can go a long way.

Retirement Lifestyle Planning

The third option is to use a retirement lifestyle plan that can put down on paper what the person will do after they leave the organization. This plan, usually formed with the help of outside coaching, helps the employee fully consider all sides of retirement.

These plans typically help the employee explore part-time working options, hobbies, and other personal endeavors they can undertake in a manner that keeps their days structured and social levels up.

These plans and ideas can and should be tailored to the specific institution using them. No two people or universities are the same, making flexibility a must for any of these plans to work properly.

What’s the Conclusion?

In the end, the real takeaway is that yes, reluctant retirees can seriously impact your organization by not allowing a certain level of turnover for new leaders and staff to develop. However, unlike what we’ve seen lately across the US, there are tons of ways to help your employee transition into the next stage of their life by actually helping them instead of forcing them out.

By utilizing these methods, you can make the retirement process as stress free as humanly possible, showing your employees that you truly care for them even after they have made their exit.


Josh spends his days writing HR blogs for Careerminds.

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