Does a late-career backward step make sense?

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  • Winding path: careers rarely progress in a straight line

    Winding path: careers rarely progress in a straight line


Q: There seem to be plenty of articles about taking a strategic step backward in your career when young. But what about when you’re near the end of your career, in a large company? The objective is to try to stay employable (and be happier with the actual work) until retirement. It seems possible to step back one level and take a cut in salary, but would HR entertain that request? Or would even asking have negative consequences?

A: I won’t say anything is possible — it all depends on where you work and how much you’re willing to risk. If your employer allows sabbaticals, job sharing or flex time, that’s a good sign. You might also consult with current and retired colleagues to see if anyone has ever worked out a similar deal.

Remember, however, that while requesting a demotion might protect your right to any pension or other retirement benefits you’ve earned, it might also suggest to management that you’re providing less value.

If pension and benefits aren’t your top concern, going part-time or stepping into an independent consulting role could give you more control over the kind of work you do. Finally, because I like to dream big: making a lateral move to another team within the company could keep you engaged (win for you) and cultivate your institutional knowledge (win for employer). Why fade away when you can finish strong?

Q: I have worked in an administrative capacity for 22 years. I’ve always gone above and beyond and worked well past the expected 40 hours per week. I mostly don’t take comp time even when I’m entitled to it, because I would get behind on my workload. I answer e-mails at night, on weekends and even on my vacation. I’ve always received outstanding performance evaluations. I plan to retire in approximately two years. My retirement will be based on the highest salary of my last three years, and I’d like to get a decent salary bump soon to take me into a comfortable retirement. Given that everyone in this office is overworked and underpaid and that I got a raise several years ago, how do I ask for another salary bump? Obviously, I will point out all the positives, but anything else I should say, or avoid saying?

A: I hate to say it, but the best time to push for a salary bump was years ago, before you established “above and beyond without complaint” as your performance baseline. Unless you’ve gone even above-er and beyond-er since your last raise, your employer has little incentive to offer you another.

But it’s worth a try: build your case on specific successes that are due to your efforts. Push your employment countdown to the back of your mind; even for the world’s best employer, providing you a “comfortable retirement” is probably not a priority.

Karla Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace for The Washington Post.

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Published Apr 5, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 4, 2016 at 7:11 pm)

Does a late-career backward step make sense?

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