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What? Retiring already? Of course!

The latest trend is to transition gradually to retirement and not just stop working from one day to the next. Helvetia offers its employees phased retirement options. Find out here how former Helvetia employee Heini Sörensen experienced it.

14 june 2019, author: Michaela Schaub, photo: Michaela Schaub

A bespectacled pensioner sitting in the cafeteria.
For former Helvetia employee Heini Sörensen, phased retirement is a win-win situation – for the employer and the employee.

Many employees are anxious about abruptly ending their working life and beginning retirement. What will happen when I stop working? How will I fill my free time? More and more employees want to be able to ease themselves into retirement. Heini Sörensen was one of the first at Helvetia to benefit from the company’s phased retirement option. He used to work full-time in the Transport department. Several life-changing events – and some warning signs from his own body – caused Heini to rethink things. But he didn’t want to give up his work and his customer contacts altogether: he loved his job, and full early retirement wasn’t financially feasible. 

Mr Sörensen, what was your job at Helvetia and how long did you work there?

I always worked full-time in the Transport department. I had front-line contact every day on interesting projects with brokers, general agencies and direct customers. All in all, I can look back on 41 years with Nationale Suisse and Helvetia – including the time spent in phased retirement.

What was your backstory and what prompted you to opt for phased retirement?

My wife was very ill and needed to be cared for at home; I was also doing a lot of administrative work in the volleyball association. On top of that, I fell ill myself in 2014 and had to have an operation. The illness was stress-induced. That’s when I started to think things over. At the same time, my line manager had begun looking for my successor. The plan was clear: I would familiarize him with the work and gradually move into retirement. First of all, I sought information from the AHV. They told me that if I took full early retirement I'd have to pay all the AHV pension contributions myself. But if I worked part-time until 65, the employer would continue to pay its share of the AHV contributions. 

I got out a pencil and paper and worked out my future financial situation (including the reduced pension from the occupational pension fund). I then took my idea to my line manager, who informed my HR consultant and the head of the division. I told myself that, also for ethical reasons, I wanted a transitional solution rather than going straight from working full time to being a full-time pensioner. Everyone involved was very open to the idea, and I’m very grateful to Helvetia and my HR consultant that I was given this opportunity. By lowering my degree of employment to 40% – with a corresponding reduction in my base salary – I was able to retire from the customer front line. From 1 January 2016 to 30 April 2018, I worked on a 40% basis and helped my successor get acquainted with the job. Because I had saved up some leave, I could retire in full on 8 September 2017. Helvetia continued to pay 40% of the AHV and pension fund contributions.

What was the induction plan for your successor like? 

The plan was very personalized and tailored to the customers. We visited the customers and brokers together: I introduced my successor to them and could then take a back seat. I was on hand to provide him with information and helpful tips. It was a real win-win situation: our customers were very appreciative of the seamless transition and the fact that I didn’t disappear from one day to the next. After knowing each other for 20 to 30 years, we had built relationships of trust – and, in some cases, personal friendships. My goal was to retire and not receive any telephone calls with complaints of the kind: «We notice you’re not there anymore.» To this day, there have been none.

Did you know what you wanted to do with your free time?

On the one hand, I knew I would need time to care for my wife. On the other, I am still involved in administrative work for the volleyball association. So I’m never bored. Almost 8½ hours of every day are filled up. I deliberately chose phased retirement because I was working 150% with my job and all my other work, and your body can’t take that sort of stress for long. 

Do you miss anything about your job? 

The only thing I miss is the contact with my customers and my colleagues in the office. But I still cultivate the personal friendships that arose. I still have contact with many customers and brokers, and we have a lot of respect for each other. What’s more, I meet up with my department colleagues for lunch three or four times a year – almost all of them turn up.

Looking back, what do you consider to be the advantages and disadvantages of phased retirement?

I can really only see advantages. The employer profits from it because the transition and transfer of knowledge are seamless, and the customers don’t notice the break. For me as an employee, there was only one downside: when you retire earlier, you’re missing the last years of pension fund contributions.  

Can you offer any advice to colleagues facing a similar decision?

First, they should check carefully whether phased retirement is viable for them financially. Second, they should talk to their line managers early on and look for solutions that suit both sides. They might opt for a more gradual form of phased retirement: from 100 to 80 to 60 to 40%, say. There’s no need to fear or be anxious about phased retirement. Transitioning to retirement gradually means it’s easier for employees to take leave of their work than if they stop working abruptly.

Helvetia supports you with your retirement needs 

There is a strong trend towards phased retirement. The process can begin at age 58, and the latest possible retirement age for the AHV and pension funds is 70. So there are 12 years between the minimum and maximum variants. During that period, you can organize a gradual transition to retirement: several partial-retirement phases are possible, as are overlapping phases of «wealth creation» and «wealth consumption».

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