I’m Retiring — Now You Want Me to Mentor

On August 7th, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued final regulations to allow eligible Federal employees the ability to work 20 hours per week, while receiving half of their pay and half of their retirement annuity. Under the Federal Phased Retirement law, employees who take advantage of the new flexibility, will be required to “devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period, to mentoring other employees.” The employees who they mentor would ideally take over their jobs when they fully retire.

Phased retirement is a flexibility that has been given to agencies to assist them with knowledge management and succession planning. It is designed to provide opportunities for cross-training to employees taking over positions of their predessesor. The purpose of the law is to achieve continuity of operations as well as give retiring employees opportunities to share their experiences with other employees.

Although November 6th is the first day that Federal employees can begin phased retirement, specific guidance has not been given to agencies and employees to assist them with administrative and procedural matters that are not addressed in the law. Will agencies be ready by November 6th?

That’s just one of many questions that I have. Here are several other questions that I have regarding the mentoring component of the new law.

  • How do we define mentoring? Is there a common definition of mentoring in the Federal government? To some agencies, mentoring is just sharing information informally to establish best practices. Other agencies use mentoring to provide development of technical occupations and competencies. Mentoring can be formal or informal. Is the intent of the law, formal or informal mentoring?
  • How do you enforce the mentoring requirement? It may be difficult for someone who has worked in a position for a number of years to mentor someone else to do their job. Plans need to be in place to create a mentoring culture where open sharing of knowledge is expected. In some siloed organizations, the culture is to hold information close and not share your expertise. This type of culture may present additional challenges to actually implement and enforce the mentoring requirement.What happens when the new person in the position is not open to being mentored? Having a mentoring culture involves employees being open to learning from others and being mentored. It’s rarely effective to force mentoring upon someone. In the event the employee taking over the position of the person retiring is not willing to be be mentored, the mentoring relationship will not be effective.
  • How do agencies prepare by November 6th? It can take between six to 12 months to create a comprehensive and sustainable mentoring program that is aligned with business goals. I am not sure if agencies have enough time to put a program in place or modify their existing one by November.Some agencies do not have corporate mentoring programs to help with the mentoring component. Those agencies that do, will need to modify existing programs to be able to accommodate a different target audience or create new programs altogether. Each agency may have specific goals for their mentoring programs that are different than succession planning.Since mentoring is a requirement to elect for phased retirement, how will workloads be adjusted to incorporate mentoring? Agencies need to prepare to adjust workloads to allot the designated time for mentoring which is 20 percent of their workload, in addition to the other HR processes that will need to be modified for phased retirement such as administration of pay, managing performance, administering leave, etc. Incorporating mentoring as a major duty is paradigm shift for most Federal employees. It’s difficult for managers to fit in their employee development, coaching, and mentoring responsibilities when it’s a major job duty. Now, we are expecting those who are regular employees in their field to now include mentoring as a job duty.
  • Will assessing someone’s readiness to mentor be factored into the criteria for being eligible for phased retirement? Let’s face it, everyone is not cut out to be a mentor, nor is interested. Those who have mentored throughout their careers will elect this option because it is the perfect way to give back and ease into retirement. You may have other employees who elect for phased retirement because it is attractive to work part time and still enjoy some of your Federal benefits, but, are really not interested in mentoring anyone. I am interested in seeing how agencies determine who is a “good” candidate for phased retirement versus those who are not. My hope is that some consideration is given to employees’ readiness to mentor.

I am excited about the possibilities of the the Federal Phased Retirement option. This is a great start to changing the landscape of how mentoring is used within the Federal government. I am a huge proponent of creating learning environments where it is expected that everyone share knowledge and skills as well as learn from others. I think it should be a part of everyone’s job. My fear is the challenges that agencies may encounter without sufficient time to layout a viable strategy to make mentoring effective. I guess we will see in the months to come how things turn out.

In the meantime, here is a tool to help you navigate your way through developing a mentoring program. It is a start to help those who have not begun the mentoring-program-development journey to support this new law.

Deadra Welcome is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

Deadra, you raise EXCELLENT questions! One should not simply assume that by simply providing an opportunity for mentoring, that it will take care of itself…because it won’t.

Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor, and not everyone knows how to leverage the availability of a mentor, and successfully port over all the tacit knowledge the mentor possesses. There are many things in life we simply don’t know enough about to even formulate a question, and work is no different in that respect. Similarly, wisdom, and a capacity to crystallize, conceptualize, and verbalize the important aspects of one’s role, duties, challenges, etc., does not automatically arrive with tenure and age. At least some of the senior staff who might think they want to attempt this option will be reduced to muttering “hummina, hummina, hummina” (à la Jackie Gleason) when it comes to relating to a junior employee what the role entails.

I think it is also fair to suggest that, all too often, knowledge transfer gets bumped to the bottom of the stack as other more pressing operational matters get tended to. This is why, despite talking a good game, we generally have to institute special measures to facilitate (and even initiate) knowledge transfer.

A dozen years back, I published a paper on inter-generational “wisdom transfer” within the public service, and raised what I felt were several key questions at the end of it:

How do we retain the wisest public servants longer?

How do we identify the almost-retired leaders we want to keep?

How do we manage and retain the insights of senior public servants after they retire?

To what extent are the wisest senior public servants already being used in a productive way?

How do we identify emerging leaders who show evidence of being or becoming wise?

How do we transfer wisdom to emerging leaders before senior staff leave or retire?

How do we get the organizational culture to value wisdom more?

I think you raise many, if not all, of the same concerns here. There needs to be some infra-structure in place for determining when and where a mentorship option is a smart move for the organization, and the individuals involved, as well as a graceful, dignified, and fair way of side-stepping it if it’s not a smart move.

I don’t expect any federal regulations to demand it, but to me it seems limiting to restrict mentorship roles to ONLY pre-retirement tenure. On the other hand, as timeless as some advice can be, the shelf-life of some other advice can be limited as agencies change.

My last question poses what I think is one of the biggest challenges: in an environment where senior public servants are often viewed as “yesterday’s news”, and where operational urgencies regularly displace efforts at knowledge transfer, how do you get people (especially managers) to value what soon-to-retire staff have to offer, to similarly value any practices and procedures put into place to foster it that knowledge/wisdom transfer, and see it as a normal part of agency business, rather than just a nice-to-have (if we have time for it)?

Peter Sperry

The mentoring requirement may prove to be one of the more minor challenges to implementing phased retirement. OPM’s guidance only addresses the HR issues. Yet to be resolved are questions like:

1. Does someone on phased retirement encumber a SES, SL or high graded GS slot, thereby blocking promotion potential for those who had been waiting for their opportunity? If so, it may cast some cold water on the mentoring relationship.

2. If agencies can fill the more senior position while the phased retiree continues working part time, what does that do to their PC&B budget?

3. How will phased retirement affect office space, parking etc.? Will the SES or GS-15 working 1/2 time give up the corner office and the subsidized parking? Again, this could impact mentoring relationships. These two items tend to be high value status symbols in many offices. Giving them up may undercut the phased retirees remaining authority. Retaining them may irritate their successor.

4. What signatory authority, if any, will phased retirees retain? Most SESs, SLs and higher graded GS managers have final decision authority over various aspects of agency activity. There can be only one “final” authority. Will the new person be expected to defer to the phased retiree or will the retiree defer to the new person?

5. What will be the impact on moral for the rest of the organization? Many of the phased retirees colleagues may secretly be more interested in their mentor’s salary, title and perks than in their wisdom and be less than thrilled about the prospect of waiting even longer for the former in order to benefit from the latter.


Mark and Peter, you both raise additional questions which probably haven’t even been thought of, let alone answered. I hope those involved with implementing the new law read our comments and questions. Thanks for your comments. My greatest hope is that there are a lot of conversations going on to ensure that this becomes a success and not a burden.