Some Lehigh staff accept new retirement plan that aims for reorganization

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Seventy Lehigh staff members of the 248 that were eligible opted to take the new 2019 retirement plan.

The plan, which provides six months of pay and benefits after retirement, gives Lehigh a chance to reorganize and broaden its outlook, said Patricia Johnson, the vice president of finance and administration. 

“It speeded up people who were already thinking about retirement,” Johnson said. “We gave them some incentive because it (previously) wasn’t a great plan. It wasn’t very lucrative.”

Johnson said in the short term, the plan will be harder on current staff members. However, she said, it is all in an effort to move the institution ahead, in line with its Path to Prominence plan.   

Gale Fritsche, assistant director of Library and Technology Services, was offered the plan, but he said he declined because he does not envision himself retiring for another ten years.  

“I like working here,” Fritsche said. “It’s a great place to work.”

Fritsche said he has not felt the effects of some of his former colleagues leaving, though it is also very early in the process.

He said Lehigh is trying to improve efficiency in the areas where staff members have left.

Internal processes have already changed with systems such as DocuSign for electronic signatures, a new hiring process and an electronic time clock. Johnson said there are hopes to make internal processes more seamless.

These changes require staff with different skill sets.

Johnson said she has noticed the difference with the 20 people in finance and administration that have left or plan to leave soon.

“It is a major impact,” Johnson said. “We’re going to miss all that knowledge that’s leaving. But again, we’re reorganizing and giving some people the opportunity to move up that wouldn’t have had that opportunity before. In the long run, it’s going to be good.”

Faculty were not included in the plan, which was only offered to staff members. Staff member eligibility is determined with a formula based on years of service and age.

Kathleen Dugan, the library coordinator, was also offered the retirement plan but declined.  

She said she started at Lehigh 21 years ago, but she is not old enough for all of the plan’s benefits.

Though Dugan didn’t accept the offer, she said she has still had to adjust in her work as a result of the plan. All of the telephone operators retired, so she has absorbed that responsibility in her current workload.

Dugan said library and technology services is making it work, and the changes are getting easier with time.  

“I feel like a lot of institutional knowledge walked out the door on Aug. 30, a lot of years of shared history,” Dugan said. “I came to work Friday and Tuesday—I come back and a lot of people that I worked with are just gone. And again, that shared history, that shared experience is gone.”

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