Bridge Employment during Retirement: A Field Study of Individual and Organizational Experiences with Post-Retirement Employment

Article excerpt

More and more employees today are formally retiring from their jobs in their 50's and early 60's, but are continuing to work in some form or other after "retirement." This article reports the results of a field study that examines why people engage in "bridge employment," the individual-level and organizational-level factors associated with acceptance of bridge employment jobs, and how bridge employment facilitates adjustment to retirement and increases overall life satisfaction. The article concludes with managerial implications for designing and implementing early retirement and bridge employment programs.

An important trend has emerged in the employment patterns of older workers: While retiring from jobs at an increasingly early age, they continue to work for longer periods of time after retirement. Employment after retirement from a long-term job but before permanent withdrawal from the workforce is called "bridge employment" (Kim & Feldman, 1998, 2000), and is the focus of this article.

The organization views bridge employees as a potentially valuable (but often untapped) asset. They can provide continuity during organizational transition, may be better-trained than other part-time and temporary workers, can mentor and guide their successors (Maule, 1995; Quinn, et al, 1990). Bridge employment is a potentially valuable experience for retirees as well. It may help older workers transition less abruptly from a labor-intensive career to an unstructured retirement (Adams & Beehr, 1998; Atchley, 1989); it may provide income needed to compensate for lower wages in retirement (Doeringer, 1990; Herz, 1995; Ruhm, 1990); it may also counteract the social isolation that often accompanies retirement (Baltes, 1995; Feldman, 1994; Greller, 1997; Richardson & Kilty, 1991).

While economists have studied the financial determinants of whether organizations offer bridge employment and employees accept it (cf. Bartel & Sicherman, 1993; Doeringer, 1990; Hurd, 1996; Ruhm, 1990), bridge employment has received considerably less attention from researchers in the organizational sciences. Using quantitative and qualitative data on over 300 bridge employees, this article has three interrelated goals in examining this issue: (1) potential advantages and disadvantages of bridge employment from the perspective of older workers, the long-term employer, successor firms, or the self-employed; (2) demographic, financial, and organizational factors associated with older worker acceptance of bridge employment, and, if so, the extent to which they are willing to work in retirement; (3) major managerial challenges in designing and implementing early retirement and bridge employment programs.


Research Site

The study was conducted within the University of California (UC) retirement system. The university system offered an early retirement incentive program to faculty members whose years of age and years of service totalled 73 or higher. The early retirement incentive consisted of adding five years of service, three years of chronological age, and a 7 percent increase in the salary factor in the calculation of pension benefits. As part of this program, faculty were also offered the opportunity to continue working at the university in some limited capacity after formally retiring, although the specifics of that continued employment were to be negotiated at the departmental level.

Nine hundred twenty-four (924) professors accepted this early retirement incentive and were therefore eligible to accept "bridge employment" as well. Surveys were sent by the researchers to these 924 retirees; 879 were deliverable. Three hundred seventy-one (371) surveys were returned, for a response rate of 42 percent.


The mean age of the participants in the study was 65.2 (SD=4.17); their average years of service in the UC system were 27.74 (SD=7.09). Ninety percent of the sample was male; 83 percent of the sample was currently married. …