Welles: Don’t leave yet, but if you must…

OPM’s Springer says feds must think carefully before retiring and managers must get ready now

What is Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer’s advice to federal workers thinking about retirement? “We’d love to have you stay,” she said, talking with me about the needs of baby boomers as they reach their retirement years. “The federal government is doing a lot of great things, and being part of that can be exciting at any point in your career.”

The baby boomer retirement wave is expected between 2008 and 2010, and OPM data indicates that the rate for information technology workers will peak a couple of years later. Still, there is a building level of retirement in the IT community and across government overall.

“Don’t be hasty,” Springer said. “Do your homework about your own personal situation. And it never hurts to have a little more in your Thrift Savings Plan.”

OPM is working on ways to prepare individuals and agencies for the retirement wave. A retirement financial literacy and education strategy was developed last summer. In the spring, OPM plans to provide federal employees with “retirement readiness profiles” that provide information tailored to individuals’ specific circumstances. The agency is also trying to give guidance to benefits officers and human resources officers, including special retirement sessions at OPM’s Federal Workforce Conference starting Feb. 27.

The message is succession planning. Springer said agency chief human capital officers should be doing risk assessments to determine who is most likely to retire and how such a vacancy would affect the organization. Then, rather than waiting for the person to leave, she said, “Start mentoring and get people paired to capture knowledge. We need to look within and groom people to move up.”

And what about employees who remain when knowledgeable colleagues and managers retire? Springer said that when other people retire, new opportunities are created for the people who remain. Vacancies mean that a door is now open.

“Our first line of attack is to look within our organization for people ready to move up,” she said. Springer said she is not encouraging agencies to turn to contractors to fill vacancies. “We’re well-positioned to bring people into the workforce without pushing the contractor button,” she said. “There are going to be times when it may be appropriate to do that, but I don’t think that should be our impulse reaction.”

She advised agencies to be proactive, saying recruitment needs to start early with pending vacancies in mind.

“We need to think expansively,” she said, and that includes considering nontraditional work schedules such as very early or very late work hours to attract and retain employees. A number of options also exist for agencies to bring back retired workers. In fact, some retirees returned to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

The Bush administration’s budget proposals also include funds for part-time employment as a transition to retirement. “We need to educate managers to make better use of the options,” Springer said.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.



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