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. 

Related story:

Employee numbers matter less than the work done, expert says

“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.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 Frank

The snide remarks about boomers aside, I witnessed the exodus of thousands of employees in critical management positions following a reorganization at my former agency, which became known as "the brain drain". The crippling effect of this resulted in many of these key employees being rehired as contractors to bridge the transition gap. This seems like a reasonable proposal considering the real possibility of a similar exodus in many government agencies.

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 Paul Chassy, Ph.D.

This analysis and initiative is consistent with one of the recommendations in the Project on Government Oversight's Bad Business report issued last year.

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 Steve

I've always felt that it would be in the taxpayer's best interests if an older employee could "pretire". That is where the person commits to retire on a specific date maybe 6 months to a year in the future. This starts the process of recruiting a replacement, who will arrive 3 or more months before the retiree actually departs. This overlap provides the opportunity for knowledge transfer between the retiree and her replacement. Granted this would increase the cost of payroll during that doubling up period, but for many positions this cost would be outweighed by the value of the knowledge saved and the elimination of a gap in the services the position provides.

Thu, Mar 8, 2012

Words from a song written by the Everly Brothers in the 1960s.... "Whenever I want you, all I have to do is Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam"

Thu, Mar 8, 2012

yea right. OPM sets ceilings after the fact to cover budget shortfalls, but Congress never looses a dime.

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group