Voluntary retirement encouraged

retirement - Joshua Awolade online

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Wilfrid Laurier University is trying to find ways to make the upcoming budget cuts less painful. One of the ways they are doing this is by creating voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and management that can help reduce the salary portion of the budget.

The voluntary retirement incentives program was announced in December, aimed at encouraging employees to retire earlier than they may have planned.

“It’s a very nice way to transition into retirement, but at the same time it allows the university some more flexibility as we’re making our budget plans because so much of our budget — about 80 per cent — is made up of salaries and benefits,” explained Pamela Cant, assistant vice-president of human resources.

“So if you’re looking at having to reduce your budget you can’t help but look at people costs in that planning.”

To be eligible, individuals must be a full-time continuing faculty or staff member, be at least 60-years-old and have worked at the university for at least 20 years.

The retirement date must be between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2017.

They are also encouraging employees to voluntarily reduce their hours or take summers off if either of these options are viable for their positions.

“We’re really looking to try and explore all voluntary opportunities before we look at involuntary, for obvious reasons,” Cant said.

According to Cant, about 135 employees at the university are eligible for the program.

Five faculty members in the psychology department are eligible.

According to Rudy Eikelboom, chair of the department of psychology, three have applied and one has decided not to. Eikelboom, who is also eligible, is still uncertain as to whether he will apply.

His own tension, he explained, is he still enjoys teaching and doing research. He feels this might be a tension other eligible employees may be facing.

“If you like what you’re doing and there’s no obvious next step when you retire, it becomes a lot less attractive,” he said, referring to the incentives program.

The incentive is that the employee will receive one year’s salary in a lump sum, as salary continuance or as a combination.

While Eikelboom said he understands why the program is being offered, he pointed to several issues it might create.

“The people being targeted are quite often the ones with the most experience in the institution,” he said.

As a result, the university will lose those employees who are heavily engaged in the institution, he said.

Having the older demographic of the university retire all at once may also create problems for departments who have many faculty in this demographic.

“If the top echelon age-wise disappears, then who is going to take on some of the responsibilities that are probably more typically taken on by people at the senior end of their career?” Eikelboom said.

Eligible individuals must submit their applications by Feb. 28, but not all applications will be approved.

“Because the purpose of the program was to assist the university in achieving our base budget target reductions, we wanted to make sure we were structuring it in a very fiscally responsible manner,” Cant said. “So in order to be approved for the program, the retirement would have to assist the university in achieving those base budget reductions.”

As an example, if someone’s position would need a replacement at around the same salary, they probably won’t be approved for the program. This decision will be up to the vice-president of the position’s area.

Although the application period hasn’t closed yet, Cant said they have had “good reception” up to this point with about a 20 to 30 per cent uptake of those who are eligible.

Eikelboom said a monetary increase in the incentives probably wouldn’t make much difference to faculty who are unsure about whether to apply for the program.

Instead, he suggested the university propose giving retired professors emeritus status, whereby they could continue with their research at the institution.

“The logic behind the discussion is very reasonable and makes a lot of sense,” Eikelboom said. “The details and how it gets implemented may not make it as advantageous as people would like.”

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