How to Eliminate Quiet Retirement Syndrome

leadership management retirement

I spent over 17 years in "Corporate America" and participated in only one retirement celebration. In my opinion, Quiet Retirement Syndrome is a problem.

I remember reading email announcements that said so-and-so was "retiring and is excited to be spending more time with his family."

I thought, "We never had a chance to say goodbye." Ironically, a few months later, I saw this "retired" individual post on LinkedIn that he was starting a new job at a new company. What?! 

I thought, "He retired. Well, I guess not. What happened here?"

A company frequently uses "retirement" language as a public rationale when communicating a termination or separation with an employee. The cold email is sent across company servers. There is no celebration or recognition.

These actions create a "chilling effect" on open retirement conservations. Collaboration and planning are replaced with Quiet Retirement Syndrome—a reluctance by the company and employee to address and plan for a thoughtful transition into retirement. 

Quiet Retirement Syndrome (QRS) limits tenured professionals and organizations from having thoughtful end-of-career planning discussions. 

Here's what I mean by this:

  • For the manager, initiating a retirement conversation with a tenured professional may be against most company HR/legal best practices. The opening discussion may be interpreted as ageism, discrimination, or constructive dismissal if not handled perfectly. Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee quits because the employer creates a hostile environment that encourages the employee to leave. Most managers feel handcuffed when it comes to opening a respectful retirement conversation. QRS in action.
  • For the employee, raising the prospect of retirement raises significant concerns that she will be viewed as uncommitted or disloyal. The thought is, "If I say that I am only here for a few more years, then I will be treated differently." That's not helpful. More QRS.

With stuck managers and employees, a thoughtful retirement planning discussion rarely happens in Corporate America. Both avoid the conversation due to HR, legal, and commitment topics, which leaves all parties guessing rather than preparing.

Replace QRS with a new approach. Here's a checklist for leaders to consider that will change the current challenges with planning for and celebrating retirement.

Promote Open Dialogue: Encourage open and honest conversations between managers and employees about retirement plans. Create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their future goals without fear of repercussions.

I encourage HR and Legal leaders in companies to provide a blueprint for employees and employers to have a robust and thoughtful retirement dialogue. Offer retirement planning resources and workshops to both managers and employees. Guide how to navigate retirement discussions respectfully and effectively.

Normalize Retirement Conversations: Break the stigma surrounding retirement discussions by normalizing them within the organization. Emphasize the importance of planning for the future and highlight the benefits of proactive retirement planning.

The goal is to have the employee and the company maximize the impact for ALL of the talent within its walls.

Flexible Work Options: Offer flexible work options for employees approaching retirement age. Flexible work solutions may include part-time work, job sharing, or phased retirement programs.

Providing flexibility can ease the transition into retirement and make it a more positive experience for employees. I support transitioning senior talent in an organization to mentoring roles.

Tenured professionals' knowledge and expertise will help up-and-coming talent prepare for challenges and opportunities ahead. Build a plan to pass the experience baton to the next generation.

By addressing Quiet Retirement Syndrome head-on and implementing solutions to promote open dialogue and proactive retirement planning, organizations can create a more supportive and respectful environment for employees approaching retirement age.

Let's celebrate retirement again. Applaud and recognize those saying goodbye. Once we do this, we will bring back the gold watch and retirement party and ensure every employee can have a meaningful and fulfilling end-of-career experience.

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