Author’s Note: A version of this post appeared on November 12, 2014 on the AGEnda: Aging & Work Blog of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College.

Maybe because it’s my personal cause célèbre – not to mention my full-time job, as executive VP at Encore.org, a national nonprofit that aims to channel the skills of people in and beyond midlife for the greater good – but I’m always talking to people about what they plan to do next, if they ever do retire from whatever it is they’re doing now. Even when their exit plans include some well-deserved time off, many people already know that they want to continue to stay engaged with the wider world and make a constructive difference. A high percentage of people I speak with also recognize that they will need some kind of continued income, even if it’s not the same salary they earned in the full-time workforce.

But all too frequently, the conversation hits a dead end right there. As much as we like the idea of a ‘second act,’ few of us have given much thought to what our own second act might actually be. For many people, retirement from a primary career can look more like falling off a cliff than stepping onto a launch pad.

It’s unfortunate that companies large and small don’t offer much help to their employees in thinking through life beyond retirement. Often, if assistance is offered, it’s bare-bones: a brief seminar on financial issues or potential tuition reimbursement for new skills and training. But only a tiny handful of corporations offer a structured program to help retirement-eligible employees really negotiate the transition to something new.

That’s not just my observation. It’s also the conclusion of new research by The Conference Board and Encore.org, summarized in an Executive Action Report entitled “Second Acts in Prime Time: Helping Employees Transition to Post-Retirement Careers.”

Encore.org and The Conference Board surveyed 91 employers to find out how they were helping their employees with these transitions. The answer: Not much.

Only a quarter of respondents were doing anything at all. Only one in five of the companies we surveyed had anything resembling a structured transition program in place.

We asked why companies don’t do more to help their employees, without whom they couldn’t have built a successful business, move into their next chapter. The overwhelming reason given was that the transition to post-company life simply wasn’t a strategic priority.

Well, maybe not yet. But, as the report indicates, it soon will be – at least for those companies with a significant number of older workers. With increasing numbers of Baby Boomers moving into what have been considered the traditional retirement years, companies with mature workforces will soon be forced to confront very real challenges in managing their talent – both the employees they need to retain for valuable skills and those who are ready to move on.

Along with the results of the survey, the report profiles four companies that have seen that future and created programs to meet the challenges head-on. The lessons – from Intel, HP, IBM and a company called YourEncore (which was created to address the needs of a consortium including P&G, Boeing and Eli Lilly) – are that structured transition programs deliver real value to company sponsors, employees and often, the communities where the companies are situated.

One of the most prominent benefits to companies with this kind of vision is a better toolset to manage talent. Transition programs result in employees who are more engaged as they approach retirement, with a clearer sense of what can follow. These employees serve as ambassadors for their companies in the community when they move into their second acts. And their example inspires loyalty among younger employees, who can see their own future second act, even if it’s still decades away.

Transition programs often originate in a corporation’s philanthropy or social-responsibility functions, where positive benefits to the company’s brand are of clear value. At Intel, for example, the marriage between corporate philanthropy and talent management is especially strong. That was one of the factors that made it relatively easy for the company to adopt a transition-support program across the company’s entire U.S. retirement-eligible population.

Encore.org presented the findings from this research at our Encore2014 conference. The conversation included human-resources leaders from the corporate and nonprofit sectors, who all agreed that transition-support programs, like the Encore Fellowships program, a model created by Encore.org and adopted by Intel and HP, were valuable resources for employees and employers in for-profit and nonprofit organizations alike.

(I was joined Julie Wirt, Intel’s global retirement design manager, in a webcast sponsored by The Conference Board last month. Check out the recording to hear how Intel views the program and what it took to set it up.)

One of the panelists at Encore 2014, Lisa Taylor, the founder of a Canadian company called Challenge Factory, shared an analogy that got both laughs and applause from the workshop participants. Growing up in a town where railroad crossings were a feature of the landscape, Lisa learned basic train safety in school. An important lesson, she said, was if a car is stalled on the tracks and a train is approaching, you should, perhaps counter-intuitively, run towards the train (but not onto the tracks!). That way, you’re less likely to be hit by flying debris.

With the “oncoming train” of changing workplace demographics barreling down the track, as greater numbers of workers progress toward retirement age, companies that run towards the train, by anticipating the needs of employees who are looking for their next chapter, will come out ahead.

By embracing the future, smart companies can avert the “flying debris” – the potential negative fallout from neglecting an aging workforce. The risks for those not ready for this shift include a disengaged workforce for those nearing retirement, and a potential loss of valuable talent that need incentives to stay on longer.

As Amber Wiseley, Intel’s Retirement Design Strategist for the Americas, noted at the conference, companies need any tool they can get their hands on to manage talent and make sure their workforce remains as motivated and productive as possible in a time when every dollar spent comes under scrutiny.

Share This