Many laboratory professionals reaching traditional retirement age are finding creative ways of staying in the workforce. What they are doing is often more than just working full-time past age sixty-five. This is occurring even as many mid-career and late-career laboratory professionals have lost their jobs in staff reductions and still-employed late-career professionals are delaying their retirements working full-time substantially past the age 65.

Why delay retirement

According to the 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (www.ebrig.org), fewer retirees have confidence their savings will carry them through their retirement. This is because many companies have abandoned pension plans in favor of 401k savings plans. The value of many of these savings plan investments has been substantially reduced by declines in stock prices and real estate values in recent years.

Many scientists, engineers and other lab professionals delay retirement because they enjoy their jobs. If lab managers could find ways to keep these professionals as part of their staffs while developing flexible workplace policies and practices that allow these professionals to balance their personal and work lives, their companies could tap the skills of these experienced professionals. Some progressive companies are already doing so.

At the same time younger lab professionals have been becoming frustrated at the slow rate of promotion due to so many positions, particularly management positions, being occupied by employees delaying retirement. Lab managers should have plans to deal with this problem.

Staged Retirements

One approach to deal with this problem while still tapping the skills of your lab's retirees is "staged retirements" – hiring retirees as part-time consultants to their former employers or other firms.

A firm called YourEncore was formed in 2003 by a consortium of Eli Lilly, Procter and Gamble, and Boeing to accelerate innovation by tapping the expertise of retired professionals, primarily in science and engineering. These individuals can register on the YourEncore website, www.yourencore.com. If selected by a company, they can work temporarily on a project either on a part-time or full-time basis until project goals are achieved. There are currently more than 4,000 retirees registered on the site and more than 600 work assignments have been completed. Other companies such as General Mills have joined this consortium.

As part of flexible practices applying to all their employees, Abbott Laboratories has adopted programs that apply to all their employees whatever their age. These options include flexible work hours, job sharing, and telecommuting. These programs are rooted in three major demographic trends occurring in both developed countries such as the U.S. and some developing countries. These trends are:

• aging of the workforce, particularly the increasing number of Baby Boomers beginning to reach retirement age

• younger workers' increased emphasis on balancing their work and family lives

• increased role of women in the scientific workforce

Abbott's Freedom to Work in the U.S." program was launched in 2008. Employees considering retirement have options besides the traditional all-or-nothing approach of working full-time or retiring full-time. They can change both their work hours and job responsibilities in different ways without affecting their benefits.

The Custom Schedule Program, allows employees to reduce their work hours (and their salary and bonuses) without reducing benefits such as health insurance. Employees who elect the program can either enjoy four-day work weeks or take as much as five additional weeks of vacation.

The Emeritus Program is more specifically tailored to employees reaching traditional retirement age. Those over the age of 55 years are eligible to participate. It allows managers, including lab managers, to shift from managing staff members to becoming individual contributors without reducing their salary or employee grade. In this way younger employees have more opportunities to become managers and rise up the ranks. Otherwise, frustration at their inability to do so could lead them to change employers.

Contributions to Emeritus Program participants' 401k plans are made as a percentage of their full salaries. The formula to calculate their pensions allows them to earn more years of service at their highest pay grade.

One of the big benefits to Abbott Laboratories is that these experienced professionals can serve as mentors to recently hired employees and transfer their knowledge in ways that are more effective than these young professionals reading lab reports, often old lab reports.