By: AMANDA MCGRORY-DIXON
With so many baby boomers on the verge of retirement, these positions will soon be vacated, creating opportunities for younger workers. Although this might provide great career development paths for younger workers, some positions are leaving major knowledge gaps, and older workers and younger workers must work together to prepare for this generational workplace shift.
Before the knowledge transfer can even begin, older and younger workers have to learn to work together, which can be a struggle for some, says Jamie Hale, account director of Towers Watson, a global professional services company in New York City. Hale recommends forming work groups that are specifically designed to include employees from the different generations. While this helps employees better understand the generational differences, it also creates a richer work environment because of the various experiences.
“The older workers can bring that wealth of knowledge they’ve had, and the younger workers can bring new perspectives,” Hale says. “That tactic has shown value at all the places along the continuum.”
As younger workers learn from older workers on project teams, this can start the phased retirement process. During phased retirement, older workers move toward a condensed schedule until they are ready to fully retire while younger workers learn the necessary skills to take over their roles, Hale says. In some cases, Hale has even seen employers hire the replacement in advance of that employee retiring. This is even done years ahead of time by some employers to ensure there is no risk of downtime when the older employee leaves.
“A double hire is an investment, but it’s about that return on investment,” Hale says. “If you can’t operate the business without that person’s knowledge, you have to determine the downside. It’s probably better that you pay an extra person for a little while rather than not be able to run the business.”
While phased retirement is necessary for some employees, it is not something that needs to be offered to all employees, Hale says. Not only is phased retirement costly if held at a company-wide level but it is only needed for those critical positions.
“Phased retirement is not a program you would want to announce on the company website and offer to everyone,” Hale says. “You need to do an analysis and understand who those critical employees are you need to stay.”
Baby boomers’ exodus from the workplace can impact an employer based on the job role or even industry, but creating a culture that encourages a partnership between baby boomers and younger workers goes a long way to ensure there is little to no drop off when the new generation of employees moves into those critical positions. Initiating the knowledge transfer can be difficult for the older worker because that employee could feel he or she is being pushed out; however, if the company culture supports knowledge sharing at all levels, it can make the process smoother and reduce the chance of resentment.
“Creating that culture can be as simple as putting in mentoring programs for people new to the organization, so knowledge sharing is indoctrinated in the organization,” Hale says. “It’s hitting it at multiple levels rather than just one.”
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