Government eyes flexible retention to prevent brain drain

Traditional wisdom says that when you retire, you’re out the door for good. But as the government comes to grips with how to retain the institutional knowledge of the departing baby boomers, the concept of retirement could take on a whole new meaning.

The issue of the exiting baby boomers has long been on the table, and managers are grappling with how to smooth the forthcoming transition. A 2011 report from the Partnership for Public Service showed that the consequences of public sector attrition often mean loss of substantial and specialized skills and experience, something that could be impossible to replace. 

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“Good employees not only take with them their skills and experience when they leave, but they may leave behind demoralized co-workers—a deterioration of employee commitment and organizational loyalty,” the report stated. 

That’s where one emerging strategy comes into place: flexible retention. It’s a simple idea: Instead of losing employees completely, try to keep as much as you can, from the employer perspective, said Bruce Tulgan, a management guru who frequently speaks and writes on workplace and leadership topics.

The concept is nothing new in the private sector. Retired executives take on consultancy roles or join advisory boards. Some become mentors; others go from full-time status to part-time work. In the government, examples can be found in the reserves in the military or senior leader programs in consulting firms where retired partners consult back, Tulgan said.

Phased-in retirement, as it’s also known as, can be a very viable strategy, particularly as more federal employees apply for retirement, said John Palguta, vice president at the Partnership for Public Service. Roughly 55 to 60 percent of federal employees leave government because they are ready to retire, he added.

The Obama administration has also acknowledged the potential of flexible retention. Its 2013 budget for the Office of Personnel Management included a proposal that would allow eligible employees to reduce their work hours at the end of their careers and receive income partially from a reduced salary and partially from retirement annuity. These employees would be required to mentor others, sharing institutional knowledge and helping with succession planning.

Flexible retention could also be a win-win for retirees who aren’t quite ready to sever ties with their workplace said Alexandra Levit, a workplace expert and consultant.

 “This is absolutely the future,” she said. “Baby boomers do not want to quit their jobs and move to Florida to play mah jong, but they are also burned out working 70 hour weeks in the corporate world. This is the happy medium, and it will gain popularity exponentially in the coming years.”


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.


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