Sixty-two-year-old Joe Ellis officially retired from the National Institutes of Health in June 2012. Yet he still shows up at the federal agency's Bethesda, Md., campus roughly two days a week. When he's there, Ellis tackles long-term projects or mentors younger colleagues, but never for more than 20 hours a week.
Call it partial retirement, consulting at one's longtime workplace, or even a grand experiment in trying to hold onto key workers at a federal agency. No matter the name, Ellis's gig is part of a revolutionary federal program designed to retain older, experienced workers and keep them on the job longer than they normally would have stayed.
It's a novel idea to want to keep around older (read: expensive) workers at this particular moment in our economic history. News headlines might suggest otherwise, as many workers in their 50s and 60s have trouble plugging back into the labor market following a layoff, or as Silicon Valley (and its funding machine) often seems to favor wunderkinds over anyone with graying hair and a family.
NIH's program to keep retirees on part time has existed for years, but it did not really take off until the late 2000s, says Julie Berko, Director of NIH's Workforce Relations Division. At that time, the agency needed specialized help in its grant and contracts department—the kind of expertise better left to agency veterans than random contractors or freelancers. With an influx of economic-stimulus cash, NIH managers and human-resources professionals started contacting recent retirees or those on the cusp of leaving to see if they would consider staying on part time.