It sounds like a credible solution for older workers: Why not allow them to phase out of their jobs into retirement? The reality, of course, is it is easier said than done. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported on phased retirement programs and found that, while the number of older workers in the labor market has increased in the last decade, "most individuals ages 61 to 66 who were still working maintained a full-time work schedule." A quarter (25 percent) of them had planned to reduce their hours as they transitioned to retirement, but less than 15 percent actually reported being partly retired or gradually retiring from their career jobs.
According to a review by the GAO, "formal phased retirement programs are relatively uncommon." They appear to be more common among employers with larger technical and professional workforces. Industries with skilled workers or with labor shortages have a higher motivation to offer phased retirement to older workers because these employees are more difficult to replace.
In addition, formal phased retirement programs are challenging for companies to institute. One of the reasons for this is compliance with existing laws. The GAO reviewed a particular study that indicated 71 percent of large employers "agreed that regulatory complexities and ambiguities involving federal tax and age discrimination laws impact their ability to offer phased retirement programs." Still, the GAO found that those employers who did institute phased retirement programs found them beneficial because of factors such as worker retention, knowledge transfer, and workplace planning.
The sad truth is phased retirement is something of a national dilemma. Boomers want to, and in many cases, have to work. Those individuals who are in professional careers or are highly skilled at their jobs are valuable employees, but more and more companies seem to throw them onto a scrap heap and opt to replace them with younger, less expensive (but less knowledgeable) workers. Only when it directly benefits the company, or the company's senior management is enlightened enough to see the value, will that company consider implementing any kind of phased retirement. Obviously, laws and regulations that make phased retirement unattractive are not helping the situation.
There is no easy solution to the phased retirement dilemma. It is simply not a national trend or, it seems, a national priority. It may actually be up to you, the individual worker, to impress upon your employer the value of allowing you to phase into retirement.