Briefings Magazine

Wanted: Chief Retirement Officer

Older workers who don’t retire may be more engaged in their roles.

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By: Arianne Cohen

Retirement sure isn’t what it used to be—starting with the “retire” part. Today, instead of spending their golden years gardening or golfing, a growing number of employees are working full-time for another decade. Others are pursuing variations on this theme by “phasing out” over a period of years, working part-time indefinitely, putting up their own shingle…you get the idea. Variety is the spice of non-retired life.

That “back and forth and still here” trend will only continue growing: The number of boomers in the US turning 65 is hitting a record high this year. Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of millennials and Gen Zers aren’t planning traditional retirements, according to a recent study. “Many are deeply committed to their work and passionate about aspects of their jobs,” says business professor Michal Strahilevitz, director of the Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Do firms need a chief retirement officer to manage all this? Quite possibly. Recent data says that two-thirds of employees would like to continue working for pleasure into their retirement years. But the variations are all over the place—from phasing out to relocating abroad to working on and off  during the week. Before firms throw up their hands at the wishy-washiness of today’s gray-haired set, Strahilevitz advises them to keep their eyes on what could be an important opportunity: Many of these employees are still excellent at portions of their jobs, offering firms the prospect of holding onto outstanding talent—and avoiding the risks of bad hiring. “The areas in which we excel are often those we enjoy the most,” says Strahilevitz, who teaches a happiness-psychology class.

Figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to make that happen is a challenging task, especially given that part-time or phased work is not suitable for all roles. Experts say that a chief retirement officer would need to identify the strongest players to retain, whether in full-time or phasing-out roles. This could be accomplished years before people reach their retirement age. Experts say that overseeing the process would easily be a full-time job at companies with substantial numbers of retirement-age employees.

Not every decision about handling boomers will be easy. For instance, companies may put the kibosh on “unretiring,” which is having a moment.Survey data from Resume Builder shows that 12 percent of retirees plan to return to the workforce this year; of those, more than 40 percent are returning to their old industry. The problem, however, is that a decent number are motivated by economics, not enthusiasm for the work itself. Still, firms believe that it would be both timely and wise to create a new role to oversee this process. “Careers are more fluid; they aren’t linear anymore,” says organizational psychologist Miriam Nelson, senior client partner in the Assessment and Succession practice at Korn Ferry.

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