Blog post

Flexible retirement virtual learning sessions

Dorset HealthCare is helping staff plan for their futures by educating them on the different retirement options available in the NHS Pension Scheme.

13 January 2022

Dorset HealthCare’s Andy Coles, deputy head of pensions and benefits and Jane Parkinson, HR business partner, share how they are retaining valuable staff by raising awareness of the different flexible retirement options available.

Retirement is a big challenge for us

The trust is the biggest provider of healthcare in the county and is responsible for all mental health and some physical health services.

Due to the services we provide, many staff have mental health officer or special class status meaning they could retire aged 55. With an average workforce age of 46 years, retention is a real challenge and one in three staff leave due to retirement.

“So what happens when 54 per cent of your workforce are less than five years away from retiring?”

The pandemic has made many reconsider their retirement plans but retirement does not have to be a cliff edge. To retain our valued staff, we decided to raise awareness of the range of flexible retirement options available. We began running virtual interactive sessions via MS Teams in June 2021. Staff over 50 or those considering retirement were encouraged to sign up and places filled quickly.

The pros of going virtual

In the past, the small pensions team had toured the vast county providing advice to limited numbers of staff. Physical pension meetings require lots of work but have limited reach. Running virtual sessions has been much less time consuming. They are quick and easy to set up and booking a place is simple. The meetings are efficient, reaching a larger audience and lunchtime sessions have made it easier for busy staff to attend.

“Pension topics are often complex, holding interactive sessions has proved much more effective than sharing written information.”

The sessions remain face to face, albeit through a screen, allowing the opportunity for questions which has been key for cementing staff understanding. Attendee feedback has been extremely positive with staff feeling reassured, informed and ready to make decisions to plan their retirement.

What we talk about during our sessions

We work as a pair to deliver the sessions, bringing our pension and HR knowledge. Firstly, we ensure attendees have a good understanding of the NHS Pension Scheme. The session covers different parts of the scheme and recent changes resulting from removing age discrimination (McCloud). Once this context had been set, the different flexible retirement options are explained.

We are able to address common myths and misunderstandings that staff have around the NHS Pension Scheme, such as the impact flexible retirement will have on their pension. This has helped change the way flexible retirement options are perceived and how they can be used to suit the individual needs of staff. The sessions have a maximum capacity of 30 attendees allowing plenty of time for questions which has helped removed barriers and allowed important open conversations to happen.

It’s having a positive cultural impact

The gatherings have been very popular, reaching 130 people so far, and the trust is already seeing positive cultural changes after just six sessions.

  • The pensions team is receiving more queries from staff considering their options.
  • Managers are also asking questions on the mechanics of flexible retirement in practice, as well as taking an interest in the options available to their own teams.
  • The sessions have encouraged more flexible retirement conversations and mindsets are becoming more progressive.
  • Managers are seeing the value in retaining staff in some capacity rather them losing them completely.
  • The shift in attitude is moving in the right direction and picking up pace.

The education session has helped staff realise there are other options aside from ending their career. The flexibility allows them time to make informed decisions about their future plans and approach managers to have early conversations. This is helping team leaders to think about what their workforce will look like in the next three-five years and is encouraging succession planning.

We intend to keep running virtual sessions and may even branch out to other topics such as hybrid and agile working.

The mutual benefits we have seen

Flexible retirement options can provide multiple benefits for both employees and organisations:

  • Retaining valuable skills and experience, which can be passed onto other staff, supports succession planning.
  • Changing the nature or pattern of work leading up to retirement can help staff to work for longer.
  • The time and cost of recruitment and training can be reduced by retaining existing staff.
  • Offering flexibility and prioritising a healthy work life balance can improve the total reward package.
  • Improved job satisfaction leads to loyal and committed employees.
  • The amount of bank staff can increase which can help cover high demand periods
  • Continuity of high-level care for patients and service users can be maintained.
  • Keeping staff who are close to retirement improves workforce diversity.
  • Offering a choice encourages staff to manage their future plans and improves health and wellbeing.

Contact details

For more information about the work in this blog, please contact the pensions and reward team

Read our flexible retirement web page for more information with examples from people who have chosen one of the options and why.

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