Practical Issues for Phased Retirement

By Anna Rappaport
Anna Rappaport is an actuary, consultant, author, and speaker, and an internationally recognized expert retirement systems and workforce issues. After retiring from Mercer Human Resource consulting, she formed Anna Rappaport Consulting. She is past-President of the Society of Actuaries and now chairs its Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks. She also serves on the Pension Research Council Advisory Board and the Board of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement.  For more information see

As a phased retiree for 15 years, I’ve come to several conclusions about how to remain engaged post-retirement.  Many of us want some type of work but not full-time; others seek work as independent contractors: and still others, as volunteers.  Here I offer several lessons from experience.

The current labor shortage offers numerous opportunities for phased-retirement careers.   Finding these opportunities can take several paths, including:

  • Reaching out to former employers who may use retirees as part-timers, to fill in when needed, or for special projects. Let your contacts know you are interested in exploring that possibility.
  • Contacting people whom you know who can make introductions.
  • Communicating with organizations devoted to helping retirees find opportunities. Examples include Retirement, Your Encore, and Encore, and some temporary agencies also help retirees find jobs.
  • Becoming self-employed. If you want to become an independent contractor and/or start a small business, do so only if you do not need to invest funds needed for your retirement to start that business. After all, most startups fail!
  • It can be very personally rewarding to work for a professional organization, a religious organization, a community group, or a charity. And such volunteer work can be combined with contracting and part-time work.

Working as an Independent Contractor

There are many rewards but also numerous practical impediments to becoming a contractor. After leaving full-time work at the end of 2004, I have since been engaged in a variety of assignments since then: my story appears here.

I’ve learned that anyone seeking contract work should define his or her ‘story’ and brand.  In this era, you will probably need a website and a LinkedIn page. You are also likely to need to market your services on an ongoing basis. Make sure your technology is suitable for your needs, and find a support person who can get you set up and troubleshoot.

If you are doing professional work, it is important to have that work reviewed.  In many cases, the client will supply the reviewer, but who this is and how it will be handled should be agreed on at the outset.  In other cases, you will need to find a reviewer who can help.  One solution that has worked for me, particularly when preparing written assignments, is to have outside contacts who are willing to review work.  Part of planning to do contract work is developing a way to get suitable review.

Another important consideration is professional and business liability, as providing advice can potentially create significant liability.  Insurance can be a partial or full solution, but there can also be other options. One is to limit what you do, so as to reduce the potential for harm and liability.  Thus, I am an actuary and write about actuarial topics, but I do not advise corporations about how much to contribute to a retirement plan nor do I advise individuals on their financial plans.  My projects are therefore limited to projects such as research, speaking, and writing.  I have also, on occasion, included limits of liability in contracts I have signed.

One area where I find it particularly important to be clear is documenting the contracting agreement in advance. Questions for which answers should be provided in writing include:

  • What will be done and how work will be delivered?
  • What are the interim and final timelines?
  • How and with whom you will communicate and get directions?
  • Who has final sign off on the work?
  • What and when you will be paid?
  • What limits, if any, are there regarding your rights to work for others?
  • If data are needed, who will provide the information, on what timeline, who will analyze it, and who is responsible for its quality?
  • What are you and your client each responsible for?
  • Who covers overhead?

It is also crucial to document issues like confidentiality, intellectual property rights, limits on liability, non-compete provisions, and process and protection in the event of disputes.

Writing a clear letter about what you offer and expect is often a path to a solution, but it may not work when there is a contracting department which uses a standard contract. My experience is that some organizations have no problem customizing the agreement, while others will not.  Larger organizations tend to outsource many functions and work with professional contracting departments; these may not work well for individual contractors.

Interested in more perspectives on phased retirement? The Society of Actuaries recently published two of my essays with Tim Driver here:


Views of our Guest Bloggers are theirs alone, and not of the Pension Research Council, the Wharton School, or the University of Pennsylvania.