Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

E-Alerts: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

Bookmark and Share

Transitioning Is The New Retirement

February 2005

One of the workplace forecasts for 2005 that I reported last month was the continuing evolution of the concept and reality of retirement. Retirement and pre-retirement issues are ever more challenging because they affect not only the individuals, but also the firms they are leaving. On balance, what are the benefits and losses to each? Who will succeed valuable talent? What institutional knowledge and judgment leaves? How have organizations planned for succession of responsibilities (usually not very well if at all)? Will the next generation be ready to take over? Will there be enough people to fill the necessary slots?

More and more often now, baby boomer "designated retirees" don't want to go, or not entirely. Many thrive on their work; others have not planned well enough financially for the lifestyle they want to continue. When they are pushed out or encouraged to leave, they may move into careers or jobs in other fields or start their own businesses. Sometimes they find this thrilling; others find it scary. Most don't start thinking about it early enough - five or ten years before they will move on - and neither do their firms, even if there is a mandatory age limit. Some businesses find themselves eager to bring people back to take advantage of their wisdom, expertise, maturity and judgment - or their contacts. However, those transitioning out who can afford not to work, may want to explore lifestyle changes and demand more flexibility rather than fitting back into the old mold and workstyle. They desire to continue working at something fulfilling, that allows them to retain their identity and self-esteem but to put in fewer hours.

Here are some quotes from Sharon Whiteley of ThirdAge, who does market research on Boomers:

-- "I'm 50 years old, but I think I'm 32."
-- "As far as our group is concerned, retirement really means still working. People will never retire in the sense of the gold watch days."
-- "This generation has really been used to defining how they are going to live life, what they want out of it."

There is no denying the inevitable: To review the situation in the professions: There are a lot of baby boomers creeping up to what is traditionally considered retirement age. Some have been billing a lot of hours for many years, and would be happy to cut back on billables but don't want to have to make the only choice that exists in most firms, the new "up and out" system. You are available 24/7 or you're out. Yes, younger professionals want to take over leadership and client management roles, but they also need more senior statesmen and mentors for their professional development. And firms will lose institutional memory, client relationships, and the judgment that comes with experience and maturity that can play a valuable role in firm governance even as the next generation takes over.

I see these issues as ones of inter-generational relations as well as firm economics. The most neglected aspect of succession planning or transitioning of roles at all levels is behavioral. When it is done right, you have firm goodwill ambassadors, business continuity, and profits for the long-term. When it's ignored or done badly, you have law suits, poor morale, loss of soul and loyalty (including from clients), and negative economic outcomes from turnover rate throughout the ranks. And we have not even gotten to the emotional side: loss of long term relationships and friendships, as well as loss of self esteem and identity from some professionals' leaving before they are ready.

These issues impact the whole firm and workforce in terms of productivity, work satisfaction, leadership, and who can best handle responsibilities and relate to clients

There are workable answers to the challenges of these issues. In Part II I'll suggest how to find solutions built around the *Next Generation, Next Destination* approach. Hint: For the younger generations in the workplace to get what they want, there must be something in it for the more senior people too.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2005. All rights reserved.