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How A Bridge Job Can Be Your Phased Retirement

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By Joe Casey

If you’re of a certain age, your thoughts may be turning to retirement. Not tomorrow, mind you, but you can envision a time when you’d like to be doing something else. Lately, you find yourself musing ‘I’m too young to fully retire, but I’ve had just about enough of the grind.’  You’re not ready to ‘hang ‘em up’ yet, but maybe it’s time to scale back on work and enjoy life more. Maybe it’s time to slow down a little, without completely stepping off the carousel (just yet).


Having Too Much Fun?

You like the work itself. It’s the politics, the commute and such that you could use less of. When you run the numbers, you see that you can retire, but you’d like to keep your hand in the game. You’d just like to find a way to scale back between now and when you’re eligible for Medicare coverage, for example.


Phased Retirement

Working out a way to retire gradually rather than abruptly makes good sense – for both employees and employers. However, it hasn’t caught on widely beyond a number of progressive companies and the Federal government, which launched a program in 2015. Less than 10% of companies surveyed offer phased retirement. There are a number of legal hurdles and complex benefits plan design issues that prevent many organizations from offering formal phased retirement programs.


Negotiated Flexible Work Arrangements for Seasoned Employees

While formal programs are not plentiful, the good news is that managers and organizations are often more open to negotiating individual arrangements. Depending upon your goals and your organization’s policies and benefits plans, you may be able to shift to reduced hours, a part-time status or to elect retirement and be engaged as a consultant. (You’ll want to do your homework carefully in advance – consulting internally with your HR group and externally with a knowledgeable financial professional and/or lawyer to understand the possibilities and potential consequences). Often organizations have established flexible work arrangements in place that could be leveraged in a way to design a gradual retirement plan.


Bridge Jobs

If your current boss or your organization isn’t open to such an arrangement, explore ways to build a bridge job with another organization or even a portfolio of multiple organizations. In fact, in today’s economy, it is increasingly common for people to engage in a bridge job before they completely exit the labor force, especially women.

The nature of retirement is dramatically changing, but so is the nature of work. The good news is that the demand for project-based work is strong. The leaner staffs in place at many companies today leave them with a shortage of the capacity, skills and experience they need. And they’re filling that gap with alternative work arrangements. In fact, a recent study found that most of the net job growth since the financial crisis has been in this category, and the strongest growth was among older, experienced workers.


Stay in Tip-Top Work Shape

An article in the Chicago Tribune this week cited a Gallup poll noting that nearly three-quarters of baby boomers expect to work in retirement. The competition will be fierce, so you’ll want to have an edge in the marketplace. The best approach to building your own phased retirement through bridge jobs is to prepare and plan ahead.

Lay a strong foundation by taking action:


  1. Keep Your Skills Sharp and Relevant

Look at the period before you retire (ideally 3 to 5 years) as a time to reinvest in your learning and development. Look for          ways to stay current in your field and add to your knowledge and skills.


  1. Cultivate a Strong Internal and External Professional Network

Sometimes people nearing retirement scale back on networking. It’s actually an important factor in landing work in the              evolving gig economy. Tend to your contacts and look for opportunities to develop new ones.


  1. Do Your Homework

Talk with people you know who are working in retirement to solicit their advice. You may be surprised by what you learn.           Many people are willing to share their experiences and advice but are rarely asked.


  1. Research Your Options

It’s a whole new world out there! Talk with your contacts about what you’d like to ultimately do and learn more about how your experience can be leveraged in different ways.


  1. Engage Your Organization

           Once you’ve completed your homework and you have a sense of what you’d like to do regarding a possible bridge job and the timing, have some exploratory conversations with the right people in your organization. Sound out your boss and see what may be possible.


The reality is that most organizations aren’t prepared for formal phased retirement programs. Yet, many are open to informal arrangements with valuable employees who want to transition to retirement gradually. And, if your company is not, many other organizations are eager to tap into the skills and experience of seasoned workers in alternative work arrangements, like consulting, that can allow you to create a bridge job. It takes some homework and planning, but taking charge and being proactive may just lead you to the bridge you want.


Joe Casey is a former senior HR executive who’s become a retirement coach in his second career. He writes for The RW Blog and is the co-host a retirement lifestyle podcast.


Cahill, K.E., Giandrea, M.D. & Quinn, J.F. (2015). Retirement patterns and the macro-economy: The prevalence and determinants of bridge jobs, phased retirement, and reentry among three recent cohorts of older Americans. The Gerontologist, 55(3),384-403.

Johnson, R.W. 2011. Phased retirement and workplace flexibility for older adults: Opportunities and challenges. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 638-68.

Marks-Jarvis, G. (2017, June 1). Baby boomers, planning to work past retirement? Here’s why that idea may be a bust. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

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