Reader 2: My husband asked his boss how much advance notice of his retirement plans would be needed and was told three months. Now he has decided on a retirement date and needs to inform his boss soon.
How should he phrase his announcement? If the boss somehow manages to find a replacement sooner, he may cut my husband loose before he’s ready. We’re planning on using his paychecks during those three months to add to our retirement funds.
Karla: Hold up. People still retire? With, like, gold watches and farewell parties?
I joke, but only partly. First, it’s commonly acknowledged that longer life expectancy, market-battered savings accounts and the climbing cost of living have moved retirement goal posts well past age 65 for many people.
And here’s a darker observation: A large percentage of U.S. workers older than 50 are being pushed prematurely out of longtime jobs — too early to segue into retirement but too late to regain their footing at full income.
A pre-pandemic study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute put that percentage at 56 percent of workers; more recently, Forbes, USA Today and my inbox suggest this trend is continuing, if not accelerating. Giving a lengthy heads-up about retirement plans just seems to be baring your neck for the ax.
“How much notice do [employers] give when they’re kicking an employee to the curb? That would be as much as I would offer [before retiring],” said Kevin Marek of Rhode Island, who spent 30 years in insurance administration before his job was eliminated with two weeks’ notice.
Likewise, I would be inclined to give the same advice for retirement as for resignations: no more notice than the length of time you can afford to go without that paycheck.
But after I put out a call for readers to share their experience, almost all respondents said they gave their employers at least 3 to 6 months’ notice, and sometimes more, with no regrets or concerns.
So the traditional guideline for retirement notice hasn’t expired yet. But you first need to ask yourself some questions about your individual situation.
What kind of place do I work for?
Most of the retirees advocating more notice were from academia and government, where careers are long, change is slow and hiring qualified replacements is lengthy and complex. Thus the threat of being pushed out early is minimal.
Yvonne Stam, a retired judge in Chapel Hill, N.C., noted that legal and medical occupations often schedule work six months to a year in advance. Giving at least six months’ notice is expected “in fairness to your colleagues who have to assume your workload,” she said in an email.
Larger private-sector companies with redundant positions generally can more easily absorb departures, so a long heads-up may not be necessary — or advisable. But in bureaucratic or short-staffed environments, even six months to a year of notice may not be long enough.
When Karen Feldt, a nurse educator in Lancaster, Pa., gave six months’ notice, responses ranged from denial (“You aren’t really ready to retire”) to panic (“You can’t go anywhere until we get through this [project, transition, crisis]”). Her employer had not found a replacement by the time she left.
Teresa Adams of Madison, Wis., actually received a promotion during her retirement notice period when her boss abruptly left for another job three months out and she was the only viable successor.
Chuck Taylor of Atlanta said a hiring freeze at his health-care-system employer made it difficult to bring in a replacement, even with a year’s notice. “They ended up engaging me on a short-term 1099 contract after my employment ended” to help train his eventual replacement, Taylor said in an email.
Who am I to this employer?
We all want to think we’re indispensable, but it’s crucial to have a realistic concept of the role you play.
Executive coach Emily Rothberg noted on LinkedIn that for C-suite executives, at least a year’s notice of retirement is a standard succession-planning strategy “so key stakeholders … don’t panic, thinking the org is adrift, or at risk.”
Amanda Cockrell, founding director of a graduate program at Hollins University, gave a full year’s notice to allow time to transfer her institutional knowledge to her colleagues. “After 26 years, most of the program resided inside my personal head,” she said in an email. “If I had given them only a month’s notice or something like that, it would have been an awful mess.”
Having unique skills or duties offers some security. Mary Ryan of Baltimore gave a year’s notice to allow time to hire and train someone to take over her exclusive administrative duties. “I am the ONLY person who does contracts, marketing and some other responsibilities” at her 25-person company, she said.
You might want to ration your notice on a need-to-know basis. Some readers notified key management or HR early in the process to allow for planning but waited to make a general announcement to colleagues to avoid an awkward lame duck period.
If you have service milestones coming up, letting management know your plans can help protect benefits you’re entitled to.
When David Jones of Kapolei, Hawaii, learned that his medical insurance employer would be outsourcing his position, he pointed out that the termination would leave him just six months shy of a crucial 15-year milestone for retiree medical coverage.
Whether out of generosity, or to avoid looking as though it was illegally trying to prevent Jones from claiming that retirement benefit, the employer extended Jones’s layoff date so he could meet the mark for coverage.
So now, having learned from these retirees, here’s what I advise:
Reader 1: It’s a good sign that you’ve been given more duties. That indicates your employer values your work — and it’s good insurance against being nudged out early.
You’re probably safe letting at least your boss know of your retirement plans if these new tasks require a long-term commitment.
But even if you’re not ready to share the news, make sure you’re documenting your work and communicating project details to colleagues in the meantime. They’ll appreciate it later.
Reader 2: It’s dicey for your husband to offer less notice than the boss specifically requested. But if he doesn’t trust the employer to let him complete his exit on his schedule, he might give a shorter notice, but soften it by offering to be available post-retirement to consult, recruit and help train his replacement if needed. Paid, of course.
Whatever your situation, retiring on your own terms is ideal, as did Kelly M., a legal secretary from Seattle. Even though her employer required three months for retirement notice, she resigned with two weeks’ notice. “I had seen over the years friends of mine following such requests only to be shown the door much earlier by other firms,” she said. “I had my finances in order and was ready to go. No animosity on my part, but no reason to delay my departure.”