For decades, the standard has been for retirees to say goodbye to their jobs and ride off into the sunset. However, some people today are taking a different route to retirement. Rather than clocking out one day and never going back, these seniors are instead phasing into their retirement by moving to a part-time schedule, becoming consultants or even starting small businesses.
"I see the beginning of a trend for people to work past the normal retirement age that is as much related to financial needs as to not feeling ready to fully retire," says Rob Werner, president and CEO of Ardent Credit Union in Pennsylvania.
Finance professionals say it can be a smart move to slowly enter into retirement. "When you really truly retire, it's hard to go back," says Kenny Elkins, a wealth manager at Equity Concepts in Henrico, Virginia. Phasing into retirement can help workers ensure they are ready for this major life change.
Personal fulfillment and financial gains. Some seniors choose partial retirement out of financial necessity. Greg Ghodsi, managing director of investments at 360 Wealth Management Group of Raymond James in Tampa, Florida, says it's something he sees even with his high-earning clients. His firm often points out to clients that leaving the workforce early might require some lifestyle changes. "That's usually when you get a frown," Ghodsi says. Rather than insist workers stay in their current position, he helps them determine what they like and what they loathe about their job. Then, they explore other options for creating income. Many times, consulting work is a good fit because it allows people to continue doing what they love while cutting out many of the more tedious aspects of a job, such as a set schedule and long office meetings.
By working on a part-time basis or as a consultant, workers can minimize withdrawals from retirement accounts so those balances continue to grow. What's more, they may be able to delay the start of Social Security, which has additional financial benefits. For every year people wait past their full retirement age, their monthly check gets an 8 percent boost.
However, money isn't the only reason some people decide to ease into retirement. "There's an emotional side to it," says Andrew Rafal, founder of Bayntree Wealth Advisors in Scottsdale, Arizona. "For 30 years, it's been their main purpose." For those used to a full work schedule, the idea of immediately having an empty calendar can feel disconcerting.
[See: 10 Jobs Hiring Older Workers.]
Benefits for employers and workers. Working out an extended retirement plan can be a win-win for all involved. "In our experience, clients who [don't phase-in their retirement] get bored after a few years," Ghodsi says. Continuing to work even part-time can provide seniors with a sense of purpose as well as financial security.
On the employer side, allowing an older worker to continue on in a part-time or consultant basis also has dual benefits. "They still get to retain the experience and intellectual capital of a veteran worker, but they're reducing their costs," Elkins says. Once workers move out of their full-time positions, employers can save money by discontinuing benefits. And the positives for employers don't end there. Companies can hire a new employee at a rate that is typically less than what was being paid to a long-time worker. The partially retired senior can then train the new worker to get that person up to speed quickly and potentially reduce training costs and time.
Tips for retirees. Regardless of whether they plan to phase into their retirement out of necessity or out of preference, seniors should have a clear understanding of what their financial needs will be like after retirement. "The best advice is to maintain your focus on the income you wish to have to retire and not the age you wish to retire," Werner says.
Rafal says pre-retirees need to have an open and frank discussion with their boss about if and how to phase out of the workforce. "Talk to your employer about a two- to five-year exit strategy," he says. Make sure there is a clear understanding of when benefits will end and what happens to profit-sharing or similar aspects of a compensation package. Those who plan to leave work completely and become a consultant or start a business can work with a financial planner to address how best to manage retirement funds and pay for health care after leaving their employee position.
Phasing into retirement seems to be the right choice for many seniors. However, if you try it and discover it's not for you, you can always quit at any time.
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