Until April 2011, Chris Town, 56, didn’t think a lot about retirement. He and his wife, Susan, 61, felt they had their financial house in order, including a professionally developed financial plan. But they hadn’t consciously discussed their visions of what their lives would look like.

Fast-forward to June, and Chris and Susan now have a far more comprehensive view of the transition from primary work life to what comes next. The catalyst was their participation in a two-and-a-half-day retirement planning workshop in May sponsored by Chris’s employer, Urban Systems, where he works as a senior environmental engineer and partner.

The workshop was offered through the company’s University of Urban Systems (U of U), an in-house initiative started in 2004 to provide employees with coaching and learning opportunities to foster career development and help people to understand and implement the company’s core strategies. Urban recognizes that its commitment to career transitions extends to ensuring that employees are well prepared for the transition to retirement.

“We want to be sure our older employees have the opportunity to look at the broader picture for their life after full-time work and put together a solid plan for that transition,” says Joel Short, senior planner and U of U leader at Urban. “So, for the last three years, we have offered the Charting Your Path to Retirement workshop to employees age 50-plus, together with their life partner.”

The workshop features seven distinct presenters during 18 hours of interactive sessions, in which the couples receive practical information and insight to help them plan for the next stage of life. Part of the learning is informing participants how they can maximize employee benefits, including pension plans, healthcare and supplemental offerings.

“This can be an eye-opener for employees and particularly their partners,” says Sally Hass, past benefits education manager for Weyerhaeuser Company and workshop developer and co-facilitator. “Some benefits either are not known about or are not being maximized, and there’s an opportunity to discuss all that the company provides—including the up to 4% matching of RRSP contributions. Plus, we explore the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, all in relationship to what is available now and what can be accessed later as part of a full financial picture.”

In addition to considering financial plans, estate plans and personal directives, the workshop identifies three stages of retirement and how to transition from one to the next:

  1. active stage—when you may be travelling or starting a new business, for example;
  2. middle stage—when you are doing less physically and mentally but have different needs
    from retirement, including income, caregiving or support services; and
  3. later stage—when you may be in residential care.

“The life-planning sessions encourage participants to explore their unique talents and strengths and align these with their values. It’s a time to explore their purpose—where they want to be and what they want to be doing [in] post-work life,” says Nigel Brown, life coach and transitions facilitator and co-facilitator of the workshop.

Understanding essential physical and mental well-being in retirement is also part of the package. Expert presenters address aging issues and the new science in brain and body health and nutrition for optimal aging.

Chris says that by the end of the sessions, he had the tools to create a multi-faceted plan for retirement that meets his and Susan’s goals.

“I have started to think about phasing out of work. I expect that change to occur for me within four years; now I’m training a younger engineer to take my place,” he says. “The biggest learning for me through the workshop was realizing that you need a purpose and meaning in your retirement…I need to have some activities in my retirement that are going to contribute to society. My field is water and waste water management, and there’s a demand for that in the Third World.”

Susan began to reduce her workload and has now transitioned her role as a medical office assistant to two days a week. “Now we’re really looking at what’s important to each of us,” she says. “I used to approach thoughts of retirement with fear and trembling. As a result of the weekend, I know I can look forward to it; it’s now a positive, cup half-full picture.”

For Urban Systems, the program offers numerous benefits. Employees are more aware of the diverse considerations of planning for retirement. They have tangible tools and information that increase their ability, confidence and motivation to take charge and plan for the future, and they gain enhanced clarity around the duration of their careers and Urban’s commitment to them. The social opportunities stimulate conversations around future planning, including thoughts about how to leave a workplace legacy of expertise.

And the learning doesn’t end with the workshop: employees are offered follow-up coaching from the program facilitators and can join an informal network of program alumni who get together to discuss how their retirement planning is progressing.

Urban is also exploring the possibility of extending some company benefits to retired employees.

“This type of education and discovery reduces pre-retirement anxiety in our employees and gives them more certainty in their current work and for their future,” says Short. “It’s also a tangible demonstration to our younger employees of Urban’s commitment to long-term employees and our hope for everyone to have successful transitions throughout work and life.”

Jill Hilderman is the principal of Nimble Communications. jill@nimblecommunications.ca

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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