By Jim Kendall
This column originally appeared in the April 25, 2016 Daily Herald
Charley doesn’t want to leave. In spite of the fact that he has reached retirement age, his skills have diminished and his insistence on sticking around is blocking promotion paths for other workers, Ol’ Charley – whose name could just as easily be Grandma Sue or something similar – has become a problem.
While Charley is a mostly (but not entirely) fictional character, the issues that sometimes surround a reluctant retiree are real at many businesses: There’s a retirement plan in place, but Charley has been part of the company for more than 40 years, and management is uncomfortable forcing the retirement issue.
The transition to retirement can be difficult, according to Larry Gard. “The transition process involves more than just finances,” Gard writes in a paper highlighting the psychological issues that retirement can bring. “Many (employees) and business owners have a deep emotional connection to their careers.
“When they think of leaving their full-time occupation, a number of emotional reactions get stirred up.”
Gard is a consulting psychologist and president of Hamilton-Chase Consulting, Chicago. Among the emotional issues retirement raises, Gard says, are the individual’s loss of a familiar role; a perceived loss of status; the change in daily routine; and a loss of the rewards many associate with work, including relationships with co-workers and a sense of purpose.
Many businesses, of course, have written retirement policies, which means a check with HR or an employment attorney might be wise, especially because many businesses find it difficult to, essentially, force Ol’ Charley out. Both Gard and John Blattner, a consulting psychologist and president of Pas International Inc., Downers Grove, favor a planning approach rather than the equivalent of a boot out the door.
“Helping employees look at moving on in a positive way is a longer-term conversation,” Blattner says. “You want to structure the process to make the employee feel good.”
Even so, both acknowledge that the conversational approach can take months. “When you think you’ve had a candid discussion,” Gard explains, “what the person at the other end of the conversation hears may lead to very different conclusions.”
Blattner describes his role as helping both the business and employee “come to terms with change.” That could be an initial conversation which acknowledges Charley’s length of service and his many contributions, but also raises the idea that change is inevitable, both for the company and for Charley.
“I’d like you to think about your future,” is part of Blattner’s initial approach with a follow-up “How do we go forward?” conversation. The idea, he says, is to give the employee “ownership in the transition.”
Gard suggests the possibility of a six to 12 month phase out that allows Ol’ Charley to take off one day a week, then three days on his way to full retirement. Employee eat-and-learn lunch sessions with outside financial and retirement lifestyle planners are another possibility.