John Chilman: Should employers encourage taking retirement sabbaticals?

John Chilman

The concept of retirement sabbaticals sounds great in theory. However, the challenge in retirement comes after six months, following the rest, holiday, and completion of jobs that have been put off for years, when you wonder what you are going to do every day. To really work, sabbaticals would need to last at least a year, begging the question: do you allow access to the pension, and stop this if they return to work, or does the employer pay them a salary equivalent to their pension?

In addition, there is the question of how many jobs could really be left open during this process. If the role is needed, it will need to be filled. It is tough on those individuals who have been retrained in order to promote them, and then remove them when the person returns.

This is trying to solve the problem of how individuals properly prepare for retirement. Instead, pre-retirement seminars should increase the focus on what individuals want to do in the ‘third age’, suggesting they start some of these things prior to retirement; employees might learn a musical instrument or foreign language, take up bowls or golf, volunteer for a charity, or develop relationships outside work.

Phased or flexible retirement already allows some of this. Individuals moving to a part-time basis, taking a less onerous job, or indeed having a greater leave allowance in the last year can facilitate this, balancing the move into retirement, while retaining the links to relationships from work.

To me, the concept of working flat out until retirement day, then stopping completely, is wrong. Retirement, for most, should be a 20-plus year experience, and it is important to help employees make the most of this, particularly during the earlier years, when they are likely to have better mental and physical health. However, I cannot see many employers being attracted to the concept of retirement sabbaticals, which I think would add complexity, and further challenge HR processes.

John Chilman is group head of pensions at National Grid

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