Lehigh’s staff members are being offered a limited-edition retirement policy that would allow long-term staff to retire with six months of continued pay and benefits.
The policy was made public on April 10 and is intended to provide the university flexibility to restructure operations.
University staff members, which do not include professors or those involved in research, are eligible for the plan if they’ve worked at Lehigh for at least 10 years, and their years of service plus age is at least 75 years. If those eligible opt into the plan by June 14, 2019, they would keep getting paid monthly for six months after they leave Lehigh sometime between April 11 and August 31 of this year.
This plan was instituted as a push toward improved efficiency, because as Patricia Johnson, vice president for Finance and Administration, said, “a lot of times, people could be waiting for retirement and maybe don’t have the skill set we would like to continue with, so this is just a little incentive to do that, and this gives us the opportunity to rethink those positions.”
Johnson said it’s about productivity, cost-savings and thinking of the future.
“We have people that are still answering telephones as their primary job, and that’s not a good thing, and they’re old enough that they could retire,” she said. “We would take that job and maybe add a lot more duties to it. So, save some money that way, and have someone that’s already there perhaps to do that additional work.”
People who may be in positions that require restructuring now have encouragement to retire, and the new retirement plan is set to boost the time frame of these alterations and give more control to those that would be making these changes.
“Instead of us getting two or three retirements at a time, we can compress all of those into a much shorter time frame,” said Chris Halladay, the associate vice president of Human Resources. “So, there’s the initial pain of we have a lot of vacancies, but there’s also the flexibility of having a lot of vacancies.”
Johnson said the university was aiming to get 40 percent of those eligible to opt for the plan, out of a total of about 270 qualified staff. This potential loss of 108 staff members would affect many office operations in the time between the changes being implemented and the replacements hired.
Johnson also estimated filling the missing positions would take an average of six months to rehire, with the time varying by position.
Linda Lefever, an associate in Human Resources, is considering the plan for herself. Lefever said she reacted to the plan in terms of her own work arrangements at Lehigh.
“I started thinking about out of 16 people in HR, there are four of us who are eligible,” she said. “That’s 25 percent of our work staff, and are all four of us going to take it? Probably not. I’m pretty certain at least two of us won’t and maybe more than that, but still that’s a huge impact.”
Halladay agreed that there are negative factors of the plan to consider.
“If your coworker leaves, and I do have to restructure, it may mean you do end up taking on more work,” he said. “Now we’ll pay you for the work, but if that’s not what you wanted, you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that.”
Many logistical and personal matters go into people deciding whether or not to take this opportunity, Lefever said.
Sometimes, it’s not just about the money.
“If I were 59-and-a-half, I probably would be like, ‘give me the papers, I’m signing up,’ but I had to think about what’s more important to me, the six months’ salary or retirement benefits, and am I really ready for this?” Lefever said. “Then, I had to go, ‘no I’m not.’ So, a lot of things to consider.”
Being 59 years old along with 10 plus years of service would make Lefever qualified for some of the university’s regular retirement benefits that she would have to weigh against the benefits offered in the new and temporary retirement opportunity.
Richard Ringhoffer, the accounts payable supervisor, chose to accept the new offer.
“Getting this here was a sign that it was time to go,” Ringhoffer said.
After 32 years of working at Lehigh, he is leaving feeling optimistic about the office bouncing back once he leaves.
“They have a good staff here, a lot of really good people in this office,” he said. “I mean that sincerely. They will pick up whatever they have to do to get things done.”