You might ask in return, "What the heck is off-ramping?" I didn't know either until I read a new report issued by the AICPA Work/Life and Women's Initiatives Executive Committee.

Off-ramping is when a firm member exits the workforce, such as to raise a child or care for a sick, elderly parent. The Guide to Building a Successful Off-Ramping Program explains that many firms are taking a hard look at those who decide to exit the workforce, and looking it an opportunity, rather than a loss. The stated conclusion is, "By facilitating the off-ramping process with guidance and training--and maintaining strong relationships with those who have chosen to off-ramp--firms are successfully tapping them for future employment needs, temporary work, contract work, and other unique opportunities." Six best practices are identified in the report to build loyalty through an off-ramping program. They are supplying technology, offering training, communicating via different channels, providing networking opportunities, making available support circles with other parents and people who have chosen to off-ramp, and facilitating the on-ramping process when people choose to return to work.

Specific details are given on how a firm can implement the best practices. For example, a number of options for keeping people connected are provided, including availability to the firm's Intranet, continued access to a firm e-mail account, laptop and full access to the organization's network, a BlackBerry or other mobile device, and participation in conference calls, videoconferences or other Web-based meetings. The report points out that this sort of program isn't one-size-fits-all, but one that must be adapted to the culture and conditions of each organization. Attraction and retention of staff continue to be the No. 1 issue facing firms, so it is great to see the creativity being shown in the implementation of off-ramping programs, and in the introduction of other programs involving life/work balance, part-time usage of retired firm members, firm alumni contact, etc.

It should be pointed out that there is a caution towards the end of the report. At first I was surprised to see it, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it is the key to any successful off-ramping program. It reads, "Keep your focus on the needs of the off-ramped employees: If you are more concerned with the needs of your organization, the employees surely will seek support elsewhere." For those who want read the entire report, go to

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