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Who’s ready for retirement?

Strategies to prepare your firm when the time comes

May 20, 2013
By Robert Half International

In the years preceding the most recent recession, many trend watchers thought they had a sure read on the looming retirement picture. With scores of Baby Boomers approaching the traditional retirement age of 65, it was assumed that there would be an exodus of workers, followed by a widespread labor shortage.

But the recession disrupted many professionals’ retirement plans. Countless people have delayed their departure from the workforce. Others have begun to question whether they’ll even “retire” at all in a traditional sense.

When financial executives were asked in a Robert Half survey how their retirement plans have changed in the last five years, 38% said they can no longer predict when they will retire. Another 13% stated that their expected retirement plans have changed: 7% planned to spend more time working, while 6% planned to spend fewer years working than previously planned.

Taking stock

As economic trends, increased longevity, and personal demands cause more professionals to re-examine their retirement plans, accounting firms may want to do some career planning of their own. How well are you paving the way for key employees to transition into retirement while preparing others to fill talent gaps? Consider these suggestions:

  • Encourage a dialogue about career plans. Although you don’t want to pry, encourage staff members to be open about any retirement plans they may be considering. Annual performance appraisals or workforce planning meetings are natural times for these discussions to arise. Stay attuned to cues from your more tenured employees, who would be difficult to replace because of their deep knowledge and established networks.
  • Assess your needs. Especially if your firm has a large number of retirement-age employees, it’s important to make time for succession planning. Consider questions such as how many of your seasoned staff you would like to retain (based on specific needs in terms of skills and experience), current and projected business demands, hiring budgets, and overall workforce demographics. Although some turnover is healthy because it gives midlevel workers a chance to move up in the organization, you also don’t want to lose all at once too many veteran employees, who may be needed to help manage expanding service lines or mentor new hires.
  • Explore preferences. Talk to experienced staff members about their continuing professional goals and what they’re looking for as they enter the later stages of their careers. Some may acknowledge they haven’t even considered retirement; others may be ready to discuss what options are available if they want to gradually wind down their careers. Find out what it would take to retain individuals with specialized expertise. They may have suggestions you’ve yet to consider that would meet a range of needs.

Options for your near-retirees

Employers can accommodate seasoned employees who want to ease into retirement by offering flexible work options. This allows them to stay professionally active while enabling them to pursue the benefits of retirement, such as more time for hobbies, travel, volunteer activities, or other personal pursuits. Popular approaches to meeting the needs of workers approaching retirement age include:

  • Phased retirement options enable veteran employees to gradually ease out of the workforce by reducing their hours or otherwise scaling back their responsibilities. These arrangements may encompass part-time work, flexible hours, telecommuting, and job sharing.
  • Job restructuring allows workers to alter their roles or responsibilities as they near retirement. They may want to focus their energies on the most rewarding aspects of their jobs, such as mentoring new hires, and forgo more demanding or stressful duties, such as dealing directly with clients. This can be a good arrangement for both employers and more tenured workers because it allows companies to groom up-and-coming professionals for new responsibilities while retaining the expertise of veteran employees.
  • Project or consulting arrangements, either on a contract basis with your firm or as an employee of a staffing agency, may be another option for retiring employees who want to continue working on an occasional basis. Some firms and employees prefer arrangements where professionals formally retire then return to work in a consulting or project-based role. This option can be attractive to financial executives who want to take on assignments that allow them to apply their expertise in areas such as auditing, tax, regulatory compliance, or financial reporting. Keeping experienced workers engaged through project-based work enables companies to retain key knowledge and skills while also making some of their labor costs variable.
  • Seasonal work also can appeal to employees nearing retirement. In the accounting field, for instance, these employees may be open to working during tax season or other busy periods, but are off for much of the rest of the year.

By beginning now to shore up efforts to tap the knowledge and skills of seasoned professionals—whether their retirement horizon is next month or next year—your firm can lay the groundwork for an effective talent transition.

>This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf