Q: What are some excellent options to help my employees prepare for retirement?

A: It is easy to forget that our concepts of retirement were created not long ago, in part to sell products to people with pensions from jobs they’d been in often for 40 years or more. Before this, elders remained a contributing, valued and integrated part of communities.

With recent changes in work, health and life span, concepts of retirement are evolving again. Many of us have colleagues working energetically well past 75 and know others who retire before 55, some of them part of the “FIRE” (financial independence, retire early) movement. The financial aspects of retirement have changed too. My focus is on preparing internally for midlife and beyond.

We now know that maintaining meaningful purpose and remaining socially integrated are primary determinants, along with financial security, of the quality of our later lives.

The first thing to do for your employees is to help them start thinking about what kind of retirement they most want, whether by bringing in speakers or providing coaching. Do they want a second or third career? A period of leisure followed by a new role? To contribute to solving major challenges such as environmental and social justice? Or to explore delayed artistic dreams?

The second thing to do is to develop a flexible phaseout from your organization rather than a hard stop. This allows employees to explore ideas while still employed. They will find some of them not as wonderful as they thought, yet still have time to adjust and experiment. Meanwhile, they can remain meaningful contributors for you, perhaps in a scaled-back way, as mentors and advisers to less experienced colleagues.

In sum, the best things you can do are: Encourage your employees to imagine broad possibilities for how they can continue to contribute and be socially integrated once they leave, and give them time to explore what sounds good in theory. The more options they recognize and have time to explore, the more they see that not only can they remain vital and engaged, but that our society badly needs their wisdom, and the better it will be for them and for all of us.


Teresa J. Rothausen is the endowed chair in principled leadership in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.