One company's approach to helping retirees look ahead

Orrin Ross is taking a course in oil painting; Benjamin Scherer is enrolled in a real estate course; and Dolores Lombardo has taken a retailing course. All three of these individuals work for the same company, Pitney Bowes, and are participants in a relatively unique pre-retirement program. The company, which manufacturers business systems such as postal metering machines, pays for them to take pre-retirement courses, hoping to stimulate second careers and get them ready for retirement.

The objective of the program, says Marc Patterson, director of compensation and benefits, is to prepare employees for the new life style they will face when they retire from full employment. The company reimburses employees who are at least 50 years old and those who have retired within the past two years for up to $300 per year for the cost of tuition, books and fees. Spouses also can take courses and receive $300 in reimbursement.

Another Pitney Bowes executive, William Redgate, vice-president-employee relations, points out, ''Too often, men and women are set adrift in their later years without guidance or direction. After a busy working career, it isn't always easy to adjust to leisure, even with adequate income.'' Thus, the company will pay the employee to take lessons from a golf pro, an art teacher, or even attend a blackjack school. Nearly any professionally taught course is acceptable.

According to Karn Rosenberg, supervisor, communications-reseach at Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, a leading benefits consulting firm, such programs are helpful to employees getting ready to retire. ''It makes the employee more confortable,'' she says, ''and encourages early retirement. People tend to continue working when they are afraid of the future and if they are not prepared for it.''

''These things also improve morale and are good for community relations,'' she adds. Although most companies offer some kind of pre-retirement counseling, TPF&C says it only knows of one company other than Pitney Bowes that offers this type of program. The other company is IBM, from whom Pitney Bowes originally got the idea.

Employees who have taken courses claim they have been beneficial. Dolores Lombardo, for example, commuted into New York one night a week to take a course at the New School-Parsons School of Design called, ''How to Run Your Own Business or Boutique.'' Miss Lombardo, who has worked for the company for 32 years, says she learned that the risks involved in starting a small business are high. As a result of the course, she is reconsidering her original plan to start her own small business when she retires.

Benjamin Scherer expects to sell real estate when he retires. Mr. Scherer, who writes technical publications for Pitney Bowes, has taken and passed a real estate course. Now, he says, he only has to pass a New York State exam before he can start selling real estate in the Port Chester area.

And, Orrin Ross hopes to sell his paintings when he retires. Mr. Ross, who likewise writes technical publications for Pitney Bowes, has been taking art courses in New Town, Conn. Eventually, he says, ''I hope to get good enough to sell them.''

Pitney Bowes has been running the program since 1978. In its first year of operation 17 employees took courses. Since then it has grown every year to the point where 196 employees used the program in 1981 at a cost of $25,552 to the company. However, about 2,500 employees out of its total work force of 18,000 employees were eligible. If all eligible employees took advantage of the program , it could cost the company $750,000. And, if their spouses took similar courses , it could run to $1.5 million. And, the cost could mount since there are another 2,500 employees in the 40 to 50 age group. The company's total work force averages 37 years of age, which is more mature than most companies. ''We have a very low turnover,'' points out Mr. Patterson.

Why does Pitney Bowes offer its employees this program in the first place when so few use it? The company says is is concerned over the quality of life of its workers, on and off the job. However, some outside observers say it is because the company is basically a nonunion company. By offering such benefits to its employees, it keeps the union organizers at bay. (For the record, the company says the employees can have a union, if they want a union.)

Pitney Bowes also has an ambitious communications campaign to promote its employee relations. The company points out it has a lot of benefits that ''lean to the long term employee.'' The pre-retirement program is just part of this strategy.

How important is privacy in your office? Very important. At least that's the conclusion of a recent study by Research and Forecasts Inc., a New York research organization, whose study was sponsored by GF Business Equipment Inc.

The study recommends a series of steps to take to enhance your privacy in the office. Among them are, personalizing the office with photos and plants to establish the space as your own in the eyes of your coworkers; avert eye contact with unwelcome visitors (it's hard to keep up a conversation with someone who isn't looking at you); and, mark off a perimeter around your desk with office furniture so everyone knows its your territory.

For copies of the study, write to GF Business Equipment Inc., 229 East Dennick Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio 44501.

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