Executive Review: Life’s Phases and Stages—How Work and Life Can Coexist

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ Summer 2019 NCFR Report

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Diane Cushman

After nearly 22 years with NCFR, Jeanne Strand is retiring, leaving behind a deep footprint. Through three executive directors, Jeanne has supported the board of directors and its committees. What she has done for the staff organization cannot be summed up in a few words. Kind, thoughtful, caring, respectful, funny, calm, thorough, organized, witty—this only begins to describe our Jeanne. Newly hired staff gravitated to Jeanne. Jeanne set the tone. She embodied our values. We’ll miss her and wish her well in retirement.

I wanted to share with you a little closer look at the past few years of Jeanne’s time at NCFR and her retirement process. Several years ago, I had the great good fortune to be the manager of work life and advancement of women at a Fortune 500 company. In the 1990s, a period of accelerated growth and economic prosperity led to extremely low unemployment rates across the United States and a great deal of competition for qualified employees. In addition, the decade prior to 2000 was filled with concerns about how computers and programs would be affected by the calendar turning over from 1999 to 2000. This resulted in unprecedented demand for computer programmers in the lead-up to Y2K, which pushed technology salaries to new heights. Employers, competing for scarce employees, began to offer creative benefits to draw in applicants and retain workers. Salary was no longer adequate. Paid parental leave, adoption assistance, casual work dress, and flexible work arrangements, to name a few, were the new de rigueur. Working with a talented external consultant, we developed what came to be known as The Guide to Flexible Work Arrangements. Part-time work, compressed schedules, telecommuting, flextime, and job sharing ended up making the edits for inclusion in the Guide. A much-explored additional option intended to keep the workforce from leaving, called phased retirement, didn’t make the cut. Management simply could not wrap their heads around how to pay out retirement benefits to someone who was phasing into retirement, working part-time, and retiring part-time. It was a great concept but was ahead of its time.

Jeanne Strand
Jeanne Strand

Now, nearly 20 years later, it’s still not commonly used. The mind-set remains for most that retirement is complete and final. Something that happens one day, before which one works for pay, after which one rests, supported by Social Security, personal savings, and some sort of defined contribution or defined benefit retirement plan. However, for many, there’s a need and desire for a second act—to remain employed, to continue to contribute, or at least to gradually move into retirement over a period of years.

This is the approach I took with Jeanne—a highly valuable employee, well liked, productive, and in today’s job market, likely difficult to replace. We kept her on, not dissimilar to the way we have kept Cindy Winter working on the annual conference program a full 12 years past her official retirement date.

Jeanne first dropped from five days to four days a week, to give herself three-day weekends. Next, for about three years, she dropped to three days a week, and settled on Tuesday through Thursday, 10 hours each day, with Mondays and Fridays off to give herself a four-day weekend. When she reached the time when she truly wanted to stop working, we negotiated a gradual departure, through which she would train her replacement.

On Jeanne’s last day in the office, as I walked her to the front door, I told her that I never felt alone in this job, and for that I was extremely grateful to her. We worked as a team, and by the end, we finished each other’s sentences. She told me that she was grateful that she never had to compromise her commitment to her family to work at NCFR. We talked briefly about the outstanding staff we have in this organization, and that not having to compromise one’s commitment to family is what brought and what keeps many of our staff members here. We work very hard, and we are just as committed to the success of our families as we are to the success of NCFR.