Planning December 2014

The (Semi) Retired Planner

Looking at the options.

By William Lieberman, AICP

I'm a baby boomer, born in 1946 in the vanguard of that group. With some 72 million of us born between 1946 and 1964, we boomers constitute almost a quarter of the U.S. population. Our influence on American culture and values has been enormous, for better or worse. Now many of us are thinking about retirement — or should be. Since I've officially retired twice and am still working, I thought it would be instructive to pass along my experiences.

First, my story: I've spent my career specializing in public transportation. About two-thirds of that time, I worked at public transit authorities, with the remainder in consulting firms. At age 55, after serving as planning director of a transit agency for 17 years, I decided to retire and open my own consulting practice, aiming to work half-time if possible. After four years, I was attracted back to full-time work in San Francisco, where both my adult children were living. Six years later, I decided to retire again. 

But not working was something I wasn't ready for. Transit had been my hobby before it became my vocation, and I didn't want to give it up just yet. Then I was approached by a colleague who offered me an opportunity I couldn't refuse. He would hire me as a part-time employee at his 15-person transportation consulting firm and pay me an hourly salary. I would receive no benefits. But since I had qualified for Medicare and was already receiving monthly checks from my retirement sources, I really didn't need benefits. We both considered it a win-win situation.

I've been doing this for almost three years. I work an average of about 20 hours a week. Some weeks it's only three or four hours, and others have reached up to 60, but those are the extremes. I like the varied pace; others may want a bit more regularity. What follows are some tips about part-time employment after you retire.

Are you ready?

According to a recent article in The Week magazine, 75 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 have less than $28,000 saved for retirement. Older planning professionals who are obliged to keep working may be able to continue in their current jobs. Others will find that part-time employment is preferable.

Of course, late-life employment need not be in the field of planning. With a little luck, you'll have some options.

Just how much money will you need from your postretirement job? Take a hardnosed approach to your costs. This starts with a careful accounting of your current expenses, both typical and unique, over a period of several months. Even this will not prepare you for the extraordinary health expenses that you're likely to encounter sooner or later. Therefore, you'll need to have a full understanding of your insurance options and all your assets, liabilities, and sources of income. Working with a financial planner or accountant can help tremendously, particularly one who is paid by the hour and not on commission.

Given that you are willing and able to work part-time in old age (however you wish to define it) and that you're interested in remaining in the planning profession, here are some specifics of how to navigate this new phase of your life.

Managing your time

My advice to new retirees is to veg out for the first couple of months. Enjoy the new freedom you've achieved, sleep in if you wish, travel a little, and read a book or two. Revel in the free time you've gained. After that, buckle down. Be sure that your path to new pursuits isn't mired in minutiae.

When I first retired, I noticed an apparent discrepancy on a credit card bill. It was only off by a few dollars, but I decided to call the credit card company to see what was going on. The charge turned out to be legitimate, and the matter was settled. I had just spent the better part of an hour resolving a $5 discrepancy.

E-mail is another potential distraction. In retirement, I now have the time to follow links supplied by friends. I have spent hours viewing videos of people doing impossibly insane stunts, photographs of beautiful vistas, and words of inspiration and encouragement. All that time is stolen from other things I could be enjoying. If you have been daydreaming about chasing websites, then go at it with a vengeance. If you've been thinking about fishing, or mastering needlepoint, or playing with your grandchildren, then do those things instead.

Set priorities. I write a list of what I want to accomplish each week and revise it as needed. I also have a long-term list of what I want to do and where I want to go each year. It's really no different from what we preached as professional planners: To accomplish goals, first be sure of what they are and then make a game plan for achieving them. And if you have a life partner, the two of you should collaborate in creating this game plan. Otherwise, you can find that you're growing apart, not closer together.

Command your schedule

One pitfall I discovered early on was that even part-time work can result in full-time commitments. Coworkers and clients expect you to be available throughout the work day, if not 24/7. When I first started my new regimen, I came into the office five days a week, often only for a few hours a day. This schedule put a real dent in the free time I had looked forward to.

I took a tip from another semiretired coworker and set a schedule for myself. I would come into the office on Mondays and Tuesdays, when I had regularly scheduled meetings, and try to take Thursdays and Fridays off. Wednesdays would be swing days, when I would come in for a few hours, if needed. I announced this schedule subtly in small font in the signature block of my e-mails.

My schedule is not rigid. I'll make exceptions for meetings and deadlines beyond my control. But as a rule, the schedule gives some predictability to my work week, both for me and for others. Much of the work (including meetings) that does occur on my off days can be handled from home.

Whenever possible, I avoid meetings first thing in the morning, and I try to leave work early enough to avoid the evening rush hour. Little things like these make the workday less onerous.

Working from home

Many self-employed planning consultants have been working from home throughout their professional careers. I do it on occasion, but in general, it doesn't work so well for me. There are too many distractions at home, including phone calls from friends and family and little fix-it projects that beg to be completed.

Besides, one of my motivations for continuing to work was to stay in touch with people in the profession. I find such contact more rewarding face-to-face.

I also love the exhilaration of stepping off the bus in downtown San Francisco, where my job is located. The pulse of the city is energizing, and I enjoy having a hundred nearby restaurants at my disposal for lunch. My home office is a great fallback when I can't or don't want to travel a half-hour into work.

Stay in touch and keep current

As noted, everyone seems to think that you'll be glued to your computer screen 24/7. This is especially true of younger colleagues (which, in my case, is almost everyone I work with), since many of them really do seem to be glued to their computers and mobile devices.

It's frustrating for them to send out messages and receive no replies, especially when deadlines loom. When I'm out of the office, I look over my messages two or three times a day to make sure there's nothing that "just can't wait." If I can't answer right away, I try to at least send a brief response saying when I will.

Then there's the matter of keeping up to date intellectually. Here's a personal example: I recently attended a conference session on autonomous vehicles. Although I was vaguely aware that driverless automobiles were under development, I learned that the technology is expected to go mainstream relatively soon. This will have far-reaching impacts on transportation and, by extension, transportation planners like me. Without attending that conference, I wouldn't have had a clue.

Compounding the information explosion is the fact that much of what I have learned over my 40-plus-year career is hopelessly out-of-date. Many old notions and rules of thumb are now irrelevant — but not all of them! It's critical to stay current and know the difference.


About 10 years ago during a meeting at work, I noticed that I was the oldest person at the table. I realized that others may not see me as one of their own. With my gray hair and more conservative habits of dress and speech, I probably appeared to be a holdover from an era long past. This can have its advantages as well as its drawbacks.

Older planners are sometimes perceived as fonts of knowledge, and that may help one land a job. More frequently, though, we old-timers are thought of as dinosaurs, hopelessly out of touch with current practice. If those prejudices prevail, it will be harder to find work or have one's professional efforts taken seriously. Only by constantly proving ourselves can we overcome this notion, and even then we won't always succeed. By the same token, we should resist the urge to dismiss the opinions of our younger workmates.

You can update your appearance, but you must be realistic about your capabilities. I no longer have the stamina for all-nighters, and there are things I can't remember even though I was just talking about them. Pace yourself to account for any diminished capabilities, physical or mental. If pacing and professional help don't work, face the fact that it may be time to withdraw from the profession. Who knows? You may open up long-awaited opportunities for those below you in the hierarchy.

Younger colleagues

I'm old enough to be the father of many of the people I work with every day, and perhaps the grandfather of a few! That doesn't bother me much, but I suspect my age may dismay a young person who doesn't know me well.

Matters often come to a head when the digital world is involved. I've been using computers and software since the late 1980s. But other than one-day courses here and there, I've had to rely on trial and error for much of my computer education. Like many, I consult with colleagues when I'm in a jam. More and more, those colleagues are a lot younger than I am.

At first I avoided doing this, but soon realized that I was taking way too much time to figure out things that they would probably know off the top of their heads. I now freely seek computer help from young workers — sometimes, the younger the better!

But the information exchange works best when it goes both ways. Which brings me to the joy of mentoring: Sharing knowledge with someone eager to learn it is one of the more sublime experiences of aging. I've enjoyed creating PowerPoint presentations about a variety of transportation issues for younger staff in my office. These allow me to convey some long-term perspectives on current issues, or to explain how things evolved. The discussions that follow these presentations are as informative to me as they are to my audience. Mentoring, especially in a one-on-one situation, is a wonderful way to further professional experience and wisdom that rarely can be gained from textbooks.

Plunge in

Retirement may be far from your mind right now. But don't put off retirement planning "until later." Unless you're independently wealthy, you need to start making a retirement plan now. You can always modify it as your situation changes.

For baby boomers, the word retirement may cease to have any real meaning. In my experience, continued involvement in the planning profession, even if only part-time, can provide supplemental income as well as personal satisfaction. Just remember to keep planning for yourself. There's a lot at stake.

William Lieberman is a semiretired planner happily working at CHS Consulting Group in San Francisco. He was formerly principal planner at transit agencies in San Francisco, San Diego, and Portland (Oregon), and was a consultant with the firms of Jacobs Engineering Group, Barton Aschman Associates, and in his own consulting practice. 


Managing the Millennials

By Brian Foote, AICP

The millennials. Also referred to as generation Y, generation next, echo boomers, chief friendship officers, or 24/7s. The name refers to those born between 1980 and 2000, the most diverse generation in American history. There are about 74 million millennials in the U.S. (23.5 percent of the total population). Most of the new planning staff members in the public and private sectors are millennials, and they are the future of our profession.

You probably already share your workplace with them or soon will be doing so. According to William Draves and Julie Coates, the authors of Nine Shift: Work, Life and Education in the 21st Century, they may have a unique set of values and behaviors as a result of the Internet age and the tremendous technological, economic, and educational changes it brought. (For more on millennials in the profession, see "New Planners on the Block," Planning, November 2014.) 


By now, some of the traits commonly attributed to millennials have been widely noted: They have a strong sense of community, civic duty, and volunteerism; they're focused on networking with friends through social media; they have a global worldview and tolerance for cultural diversity; they're skilled with electronic gadgets and very technologically savvy.

They are also optimistic and upbeat, fun loving, self-confident, and have a strong sense of entitlement. That means they have a strong desire to contribute and provide suggestions. In addition, they are ambitious, career oriented, have a "me first" attitude at work, and desire to make an imprint or brand their work. Finally, they are not beholden to tradition, which translates as a sense of detachment from hierarchal institutions and a readiness to go right to the top.

Two recent examples may reinforce these notions. A new college graduate with a freshly minted master's degree was interviewing for an entry-level planner position, and at the end of the interview this person asked, "How soon can I expect to be promoted into a supervisory position?" 

Another individual, who was about to graduate, left a voicemail message for a planning director attempting to schedule an appointment so the director could provide suggestions for the student's resume. The student wanted a 4:00 p.m. meeting "the day after tomorrow," and said he was looking forward to hearing the director's reply by the end of the day.

While millennials and their technological skills make for an invigorating work environment, they may also present some management challenges. That desire to express their individuality and brand their work might not align with management's push toward uniformity and high-quality work products. Rather than trying to contain their energy and motivation, a little bit of redirection might go a long way.

Consider another real-life example: A millennial coworker created a unique planning division logo, and then substituted it for the city's official emblem on public notices. The new logo was, admittedly, done in good taste and colorful (the staff member had obviously spent some time on it). The logo even adorned the planning division's website. However, at the direction of executive management, the new logo was removed and the city's official emblem reinstated on the city's templates.

Trying to provide positive reinforcement, I explained the reason the logo needed to be removed from the public notices. The employee presumably expected to collaborate on this decision, so I presented the change in a way that staff's input was welcomed. We ended up deciding to let the new logo remain on the planning division website, and included it on our exhibits for National Community Planning Month in October.

In this participatory setting, the employee's initiative and effort was encouraged, with my intention that this individual might gain a sense of ownership in the process and the product. The effectiveness of that collaborative effort could be attributed to the person being a millennial. In truth, it could more likely be the result of that individual's unique personality.


According to some observers, millennials have certain work expectations: genuine interest from others; frequent praise and feedback; knowledge that they are making a difference; leeway for creative efforts; participation in decision making; opportunities for self-improvement, if not advancement; and open and ongoing communication. Author Ron Alsop has called the millennials "trophy kids" because they received trophies simply for being on the team, and therefore have grown up with similar expectations in adulthood.

But doesn't everyone want some positive feedback? Ed McLoughlin, an organizational development coach at Tremblay & McLoughlin Seminars, said this during one of his talks: "The best method to demotivate an employee is to not give credit to people for their work." In our planning department, in Burbank, California, we strive to give positive feedback by providing regular recognition via group e-mails (often with funny clip art) and kudos at staff meetings (we give mad props).

On a related note, millennials expect a high level of personal attention and mentoring at work, according to millennial theory. My experience has been that millennials generally respond very positively to mentors who take the time to provide personal attention and skills training.

Injecting some theory into practice

The Platinum Rule, by Tony Alessandra and Michael O'Connor, offers another way to interact with millennials. The book explains the four basic personality styles in the business world: the director, the relater, the socializer, and the thinker. Everyone has elements of each style, but for most people, one particular style will be dominant. The four styles are evident across cultures, generations, and genders. It's useful to recognize the types when working one-on-one, according to McLoughlin. "They are especially helpful in moving people toward greater understanding of others," he said during an interview.

In the example of a new logo on public notices, asking a relater for suggestions and input encourages collaboration, because this is in harmony with that person's focus on tasks and including others in the decision-making process (two salient features of the style). When asking a socializer about weekend or family activities, the result might be an extended conversation because it harmonizes with that person's emphasis on people and feelings.

Don't just manage

If millennials seem puzzling or challenging to work with, it may be because they aren't meant for traditional management techniques. If we can move beyond mundane management functions, we can enter the arena of leadership.

There's a distinction between management and leadership. Leadership is more personal, encouraging, and motivating. And that's what millennials want. On second thought, maybe they aren't that different from the rest of us after all.

Brian Foote is a senior planner with the city of Burbank and a member of APA's City Planning and Management Division and of generation X. 


What Millennials Want



Will help me navigate my career path

Will give me straight feedback

Will mentor and coach me

Will sponsor me for formal development programs

Is comfortable with flexible schedules



Will develop my skills for the future

Has strong values

Offers customizable options in my benefits and reward packages

Allows me to blend work with the rest of my life

Offers clear career paths

. . . TO LEARN


Technical skills in my area of expertise

Self-management and personal productivity


Industry or functional knowledge

Creativity and innovation strategies


Used with permission from Harvard Business Review. From "Mentoring Millennials" by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, May 2010. © 2010 the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.