I recall my younger days as an energetic, hopeful champion of change. It was the mid-1980s and we set out as a band of pioneers in that era’s rigid workplaces. The emerging offices-as-factories cried out for a way of working that reflected the potential flexibility of encroaching knowledge work. A newly affluent middle class – many of our parents and grandparents – could dream of a healthy, happy retirement that their hard working parents couldn’t imagine – and all could celebrate around Thanksgiving tables.
Pursuing the dream of flexible work – and phased retirement
I remember flying to my first conference, rehearsing my provocative presentation: the exotic menu of flexible work options, new to a skeptical business crowd. I rehearsed the arguments again and again for flextime, regular part-time, compressed schedules, job sharing, work-from-home – and the European transplant of phased and partial retirement. In the first of what would be hundreds of presentations, seminars and one-on-one conversations, I fielded a mix of curious, intrigued and skeptical exchanges about all of these options save one. And that would be?
Yes, phased retirement. It began as the orphan option and has remained so for three decades. During that time millions of people have taken the insistence on flex into their hands and made all forms of proposals to get what they wanted. Need better work-life balance? Tired of the punishing commute? Really needing a little time to yourself?
Whatever the reason, many of us took advantage of options offered by best practice employers or many more got a deal under the radar. Far too many created proposals out of whole cloth to get what they wanted and needed.
But as the quality of retirement began to dim, the dream of phasing out never materialized
Companies compete for most flexible workplace titles for Working Mother and Fortune 100 Best Companies editions year after year. The contest to woo millennials gains steam every day. At the same time longevity has become a widely noted “thing”, labor markets are strained to the breaking point and employers bemoan the lack of knowledge transfer. Yet formal phased retirement opportunities remain largely non-existent.
For our parents and grandparents – and eventually for most of us – these statistics don’t just describe an unnecessary and fixable gap. They represent a barrier to the extended work people want and need to remain employed and engaged, to afford an increasingly fleeting shot at a sustainable and healthy retirement.
I have a vivid memory of my early days at New Ways to Work in 1986, pouring over a library full of files, including dozens of inventive employee proposals for just a little flexibility. One proposal stood out for its thoroughness and comprehensive argument. Weighing in at several pounds and more than 200 pages, this parent of three wanted a reduction in schedule from 100 to 80% time. Yet her proposal was rejected. Are such things still happening?
Giving thanks by building tools where they are needed most
While there may be short forms or no forms to get work from home, it might take an encyclopedic proposal to “ease into retirement.” It is well past time to close the gap between what is needed and what is offered. Our aging workers – parents and grandparents among them – cannot wait for employers to embrace what most have avoided for decades. I have been fortunate on many levels over the years and have had the privilege of working with several far-sighted employers to design creative phased retirement programs.
The heart of these efforts is a set of tools that enable powerful proposals that benefit both employer and employee. My consulting firm committed this Thanksgiving to donating these tools to the nonprofit Respectful Exits, which is launching a crowdfunding campaign to build them out and distribute free to anyone who wants to finally have a shot at a better path to retirement.
You can support the older members of your family this holiday season by going to the Respectful Exits’ Giving Tuesday campaign and giving to help close the gap. Contributions made before midnight on Giving Tuesday will be matched 2-to-1 by a generous donor.
And on that long car, train or plane ride, watch my brief video below to learn more about The Phazer™ — a tool to help bridge the gap.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.
Paul Rupert, Founder & CEO
Rupert Organizational Design
Just tuning in? Read our last dialogue on Open Office Workspaces here.
Since 2000, Rupert Organizational Design has been building respectful workplaces. Our innovative problem-solving and over four decades of expertise on Workplace Flexibility and Phased Retirement is transforming organizations. They key to our approach is Mutual Respect. Rupert Organizational Design client partnerships range from major national and global firms, to hospitals and small businesses in achieving superior talent and operational successes. If you’d like a consultation on building a respectful workplace, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.