Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Preparing the Public Employee for Retirement

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Preparing the Public Employee for Retirement

Article excerpt

This study of more than 725 federal, state and local government agencies reports on availability of preretirement planning programs for public employees. Current agency participation rates in preretirement counseling and projections for future programs were established along with content, administration, design, participation and other program characteristics. Results are profiled and compared with several similar studies of organizations within the private sector. The public sector's lag in both participation rates and innovation is documented. Most programs treat retirement as a point in time and fail to recognize it as a complex process and to design programs accordingly. Areas where existing programs need improvement are discussed along with agency perceptions of direct and indirect program benefits. Implications of these findings for future manpower planning strategies are presented.

In 1989 there were close to 18 million public employees in federal, state or local governmental agencies. Bureau of Labor Statistics population profiles suggest approximately 2.3 million of these men and women were age 55 or older - the typical age at which the "older American" seriously starts considering retirement (Beutell, 1983; Hagen, 1983). In spite of the fact that mandatory retirement is no longer legal (except where Federal age regulations apply to jobs such as pilots and operators of specific transportation vehicles) several studies report a trend towards retirement at progressively earlier ages. In 1987, public sector employees appear to be retiring at an average age of 59.2 years. (Pabst, 1987). This was significantly younger than the 62 average retirement age reported for employees in 1986 and 1987 (Siegel, 1989 Anonymous, 1987).

The private sector, with almost 15 million employees age 55 or older in 1989, is well aware of this labor force trend and is actively trying to better prepare their employees for the eventuality (Watts, 1987; Feuer, 1985). Preretirement counseling programs started to proliferate in the early '70s. There are many studies that document the participation rates, format and content of such programs (Montana, 1986; Eliopoulos, 1989; response of the public sector is not so clear. A comprehensive study on the state of preretirement planning programs for the public employee has not been documented to date.

This survey was conducted to fill that void by a large scale assessment of the status of existing and planned preretirement programs within a composite population of federal, state and local agencies, and to compare findings with results from similar studies of programs in the private sector.

The Survey

More than 725 civilian governmental agencies representing the 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were asked to participate. Agency size ranged from less than 100 to more than 20,000 employees.

A 27 item questionnaire similar to the instrument previously tested and used for private sector studies was sent to responsible individuals in the selected agencies. The response rate was slightly under 30%. This was consistent with the comparable private sector studies (Siegel & Rives, 1978, 1980; Siegel, 1986, 1989). Two hundred questionnaires were suitable for analysis. It is estimated that more than 1 million of the 18 million government employees were represented in this survey.


Participation Rates

Fifty-two percent of responding agencies currently provide preretirement programs for employees and slightly more than half of those without programs anticipated implementing them shortly. Most claim new programs will be operational by the end of 1991. Preretirement counseling programs were mandated by either legislation, official policy or labor contracts in only 29% of the agencies.

Figure 1 compares actual and projected participation rates of these public sector agencies with results from a similar study of service firms in the private sector. …

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