How Washington is leading the way on phased retirement

Gwendolyn Ross will turn 66 in November, but she isn’t ready to retire. A deputy comptroller for the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami Beach, Florida, she hopes to work until she’s 70 – but she would like to cut back her hours.

“I have some health issues that require a lot of visits to the doctor, and I’d love to have more time to visit my family in Michigan,” she says. At the same time, she needs to keep working to prepare for retirement. “As I get closer to it, I realize I’m not as financially ready as I thought I would be when I was younger. The time went by really quickly.”

Ross is a great candidate for a new federal government program that will allow workers to opt for a phased retirement. Participants in the program, which launches this fall, will be able to work half-time while collecting half their pensions after they reach the eligible retirement age.

For the government, the program is expected to be a money saver. But phased retirement also will help the government retain talent and expertise at a time when the “brain drain” from an aging workforce is a major concern. About 600,000 people, or 31 percent of the federal civilian workforce, will be eligible for retirement by September 2017, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Phased retirees will be required to spend at least 20 percent of their time mentoring younger employees.

Worker interest in a flexible glide path to retirement is strong, and it’s not limited to the federal payroll. A survey this year by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 64 percent of workers – of all ages – envision a phased retirement involving continued work with reduced hours.

Employers have been slow to respond. Just 21 percent of respondents to the Transamerica survey said their employers offer phased retirement – and that figure may be too optimistic. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 11 percent of employers provide some version of phased retirement, with only 4 percent having formal programs. Cahill’s research shows similar employer disinterest in phased retirement programs.

Learn more about phased retirement in my column today at Reuters Money.