Handling People’s Retirement

Transferring Knowledge and Maintaining Motivation.

The next 10 years will bring one of the largest “knowledge drains” in world history, as a huge percentage of the world’s workforces begin to retire. In the United States, tens of millions of workers will walk out their companies’ doors over the next decade. Other countries – like the UK, France, Spain, and Japan – will see a similar proportion of their workforces retiring. 

If you’re in management, you might be nervous when you look at just how much human capital you’ll lose. But it doesn’t have to be a disaster if you start preparing now. Identify which potential retirees have the knowledge and specialized skills that your company can’t live without.

And don’t make the mistake of focusing on only your most senior-level executives. The office manager who makes flight reservations, orders office supplies, and hires company vehicles knows the best vendors and best negotiating tactics. These skills may save your company a great deal of money each year. Teaching all of this to a new worker would be very time-consuming and costly.

Consider flexible work arrangements.  Many companies are creating strategies to keep their older workers longer. This gives them more time to train the next generation. Offer flexible scheduling, telecommuting, or part-time employment to your older staff. This will probably be appealing for those who would enjoy a more gradual transition. plan-for-retirement-pop_6513

Give retiring staff the option to volunteer. You might be surprised to discover that many large companies ask retirees to volunteer as mentors or coaches to their replacements. Many retired workers are open to this suggestion because it places a value on their wisdom. They feel needed and wanted at a time when their self-confidence might be suffering.

Offer team members a chance to switch roles. Many upper-level managers and executives might be at the “burnout” phase right before they retire. They’re tired and ready for a change. But they may be open to staying on in a slightly different role. For example, if they started their career in marketing and worked their way up to senior management, perhaps they’d like to go back to marketing. This would give them fewer responsibilities and lower stress, but still keep them in the company and available for mentoring.

Tip: Be flexible when introducing new technology. If he or she isn’t a strong technology person, and you adopt a new technology before his or her retirement date, consider rearranging responsibilities in your team. You might be able to allow the retiring worker to continue using his or her strengths while you save the pointless stress of learning the technology.

Capture their wisdom.  There are two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit. Explicit (obvious and easy to define) knowledge can usually be learned by simple questioning. It’s the “this is how I do my job” knowledge. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is less easily defined, and people often don’t really know they have it. Tacit knowledge refers to experiences, stories, and creative solutions that have been found over the years.

Many companies use knowledge retention techniques to capture both types of knowledge. For example, you could conduct several recorded exit interviews, questioning the retiring person about her job, to capture her explicit knowledge. And you could partner her with a younger replacement, who will “shadow” her for weeks or months to capture her tacit knowledge.

Celebrate their work. When the time comes for the person retiring to leave, take the time to celebrate their work for the organization. For the retiree, make sure his or her time at work ends on a positive note.