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Respectful Exits:  Design & Delivery



I love my new exit plan. I work fewer, more focused hours, regularly mentor younger staff and continue to save for a comfortable retirement.

My boss and my co-workers say I’ve never seemed more engaged in my work.

What an opportunity!


We are a talent-driven company with a focus on Millennials. We also recognize the proven talent, commitment and key knowledge in the growing older workforce.

We offer a variety of exits to satisfy employees, assure productivity, and capture irreplaceable knowledge. We manage them with respect.

Respectful Retiree
Respectful Manager

The Data

Given the obvious delight of these users of graceful exits, it would not be surprising to see such arrangements sweeping the country. Yet that is only beginning to be true. Consider these facts:


 The Labor Department calls the 55-and-older age group the fastest growing segment of the American workforce.
 “64% of workers age 18-64 envision a phased transition into retirement”.
 A majority of workers age 50+ consider formal phased retirement programs ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’.
 27% of Americans plan to “keep working as long as possible.”
 Another 12 percent say they don’t plan to retire at all.

Simple summary: Strong demand exists. Hundreds of thousands of older workers seek extended careers and creative endings. The pressing question is on the supply side because:

In 2016,11% of companies offer “informal phased retirement”
In 2016, 5% of companies offer “formal phased retirement”
Just 21% of workers say their employers enable employees to reduce work hours and shift from full-time to part-time

Simply put, there is far less movement on the supply side. Why is that?

The Dilemma

As companies ponder what is often called Phased Retirement – and we call more broadly Respectful Exits – high levels of concern or fear can surround discussions and decisions about modifying mandatory retirement. Among the issues that arise are:

Discrimination There is often a strong concern that creating different exits for different people will lead to complaints of unfairness or worse.

Part-time = part value Many leaders share a longstanding fear that less than full-time schedules will lead to far less than adequate effort

Inconsistent decisions There is frequently a belief that different managers will make very different decisions about who gets to do what

Sharing knowledge elusive The systematic transfer of vital knowledge is far easier to claim than to accomplish with departing employees

The Differentiator

We have worked with many dozens of companies on new forms of staffing and scheduling, including what we call phased retirement or respectful exits. These contrast with what many employers call “phased retirement”: a sole choice of one-off, individual arrangements, most commonly involving the termination of the employee and bringing him or her back as a contractor with a higher pay rate and no benefits. While such an option is appealing to some and might be valuable as part of a menu of options for older workers, It is valuable to explore that larger menu.


A major consumer products company sought our assistance to develop such a solid framework. This firm depends on a highly skilled and technically unique workforce. Based on an internal survey it recognized that nearly 25% of its workforce was nearing retirement age. Retaining even a portion of that cohort would strengthen the organization. Recognizing that the terminate-then-contract approach alone was too random and unappealing to allow targeted retention, the company undertook a genuine Phased Retirement initiative.

From the outset the firm realized that to be effective, its approach had to be driven by mutual respect and gain. It defined the benefits as follows:

 For the company: retention of valued employees and their contributions beyond “retirement age”
     ▪ The options had to be diverse enough to appeal to many employees
     ▪ Work needed to be re-prioritized to align with reduced schedules
Knowledge transfer and mentoring had to be well-designed and executed

 For the retiree: continuation of employee status and benefits with a path to full retirement
     ▪ Assurance of continued employment on a reduced schedule
     ▪ Receipt of prorated benefits with no negative impact on pension terms
     ▪ Opportunity to eliminate low-value work and engage in mentoring

Implementing a Respectful Exit Initiative

This effort required a good deal of hard work, both thoughtful and comprehensive. Internal and external resources were used to conduct extensive benefits redesign, creation of collaborative implementation tools and crafting of a broad communications campaign. Among the crucial activities we contributed were:

1. PRE-RETIREE RESEARCH Employee focus groups enabled the company to design a customized menu to maximize satisfaction and retention in a cost efficient way. And they helped identify employees in specific roles or with specialized skills whose loss posed great risk to the organization.

2. CREATIVE COMP AND BENEFITS DESIGN A cross-functional team collaborated on a rewards redesign. They achieved a major goal of allowing continued participation in defined benefit and contribution pension and savings plans under the same terms and conditions as full-time employees.

3. WORK REDESIGN PROCESS Older workers worried that they would end up working full-time for reduced pay; managers were concerned that critical work might not get done. The solution was a tool and process for collaborative work redesign. It charted the elimination of low-value work.

4. TRANSFERRING KNOWLEDGE A great gap can exist between the hope for the transfer of knowledge by retirees and its fulfillment. Once more a collaborative tool and process enabled managers and employees to work together to define outcomes, timelines and metrics for the desired transfers.

5. SUPERIOR COMMUNICATIONS The messages introducing the program needed to be clear, effective across multiple channels and offering a voluntary, not mandatory program. Great attention was paid to preparing managers to explain the program and process proposals.

6. ONLINE GUIDANCE AND TRAINING There are many “moving parts” in this program, and the end users – potential retirees and managers – benefitted from easily accessible, online one-stop shops for understanding the program and using its tools well.

The process and outcomes of this initiative

The eventual program was open to employees age 55 with at least 10 years of service with the company. The program is completely voluntary; no one will encourage an employee to participate. Interested employees use a formal proposal process that includes The Knowledge Transfer Plan and the Work Redesign Guide. These mutually-agreed upon documents are required for acceptance.

There are several forms of retirement available:

Track I: Employees can reduce their full-time schedule to four days per week or take up to five weeks additional time off each year with a corresponding decrease in pay and bonus
Track II: Employees can keep their same schedule, pay, and bonus but alter or even reduce their responsibilities such as staff supervision or travel roles in exchange for assuming a critical mentoring or “knowledge transfer” role

A contractor option is available where it is seen as mutually beneficial. The program was launched in 2008, has been judged successful by both managers and employees and continues to be offered. The company does not release precise usage information. However, it has stated clearly and publicly that the number of participants exceeded expectations. Many hundreds of employees have participated and are participating in the program. The company reports a high degree of enthusiasm among users. The work redesign and knowledge transfer components have been accepted and well used.

To discuss how we can help you with Respectful Exits,
contact Paul Rupert at 301-873-8489 or


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Rupert & Company enables Collaborative Flexibility. We fully integrate employee need for greater control of where, when and how work is done with employer need for greater contribution.

We enhance engagement, productivity, cost reduction and talent attraction and retention. We design the future of flexibility.

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