April 2003  Volume 29, Issue 3
April 2003 Issue
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The Business Case for Building Flexibilty for Senior Professionals
by Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Understand the costs and benefits of keeping your seasoned people.

Most flexible work arrangements have focused on younger and midlevel professionals, particularly those with children at home. Increasingly, however, members of the baby-boomer generation and the "veteran" generation want to ease off while still staying connected to meaningful work. Firms need to think about building in flexibility for these seasoned professionals. And there is a solid business case that benefits both the organization and the individuals.

Melding individual and firm goals. After years of intense work and a stressful lifestyle, some of your seasoned people may be looking for a change. At the same time, they may be reluctant to walk away from their ties to the firm, the gratification of being useful to a business enterprise and the problem-solving challenges that have been part of their lives for so long. They may be as young as 50 or as old as 75, but they are not ready to embrace the concept of full retirement. Why lose them? Why force them to make an all-or-nothing choice?

How can these senior professionals benefit the firm and still fit into what many firms see as a one-size-fits-all environment? This is not really a radical notion. Many firms have flexible arrangements for those who hold teaching positions or are big-name draws with political connections.

According to a Harvard study of 1,400 elderly people, reported in Aging Well by George Vaillant, older workers who are happiest and most productive choose work that provides them with the opportunity to be creative and to make younger friends. For workers age 55 and older, assuming basic needs are met, those factors are more important than dollar income.

Here are some of the nontraditional arrangements that have worked for senior professionals in firms and corporations:

  • Performing intensive project work for a given amount of time, followed by a break of one to several months
  • Taking a major role in mentoring and training junior professionals, together with maintaining long-time client relationships and handholding
  • Maintaining the firm's visibility and external relationships as an active member of community, professional and charitable organizations and boards
  • Contributing years of wisdom and experience to the firm's marketing efforts by writing and speaking

These arrangements provide solid contributions to the firm while permitting the individual to reduce the pressures of daily work life.

Analyzing the benefits. As you consider implementing flex arrangements for your senior professionals, these are some of the factors to include in the cost-benefit analysis:

Costs to the firm

  • Additional administration involved in handling nontraditional scheduling, roles and compensation
  • Loss of billable hours these fee-earners would have produced if they had continued on full-time
  • Ongoing office space, supplies and like expenses

Benefits to the firm

  • Retains seasoned talent and institutional memory
  • Keeps long-term connections to clients
  • Reduces compensation costs
  • Opens opportunities for midlevel professionals to assume more responsibility
  • Smoothes succession planning for transitioning client responsibilities and relationships to others
  • Generates greater enthusiasm and productivity during the senior professional's work hours

Success means a change in attitudes. To make nontraditional arrangements work successfully, firms must also address two attitudinal factors. First, you must identify and communicate the senior professional's work expectations, as well as those of others in the firm directly affected by the new arrangement.

The second issue is getting over defining success as an all-out, 24-7 effort tied to the individual's making more money every year. When other important aspects of success are given greater respect in the workplace, more people will feel successful and fulfilled. It means a change in the firm's culture that will bring additional, and immeasurable, benefits. And your seniors may well relish taking part in creating a culture that represents values they have come to appreciate.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot ( pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com) is President of Practice Development Counsel, a New York-based consulting and coaching firm focusing on business development and organizational effectiveness. Author of The Rainmaking Machine (West Group), she can be reached at (212) 593-1549.