What Happens When Baby Boomers Retire?

What Happens When Baby Boomers Retire?

There’s a dark cloud on the horizon threatening your company’s ability to function. 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day!

When Baby Boomers retire, they take with them a lifetime of knowledge and soft skills that can be harder to find in today’s workforce. What is your company doing to prepare for this loss?

Baby Boomers Who RetireThe difference between Baby Boomers & younger workers:

As someone who spends time in workforce development and economic development, I constantly hear from employers that younger people entering the workforce often lack the soft skills mature Baby Boomers have, such as:

  • Teamwork
  • Commitment
  • Ethics
  • Communication, which mature workers bring to the table.

Before we let our mature employees walk away, how do we transfer their technical knowledge and soft skills to new workers?

Which companies will be hit hardest by Baby Boomers retiring?

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that the impact will hit some industries more than others. Particularly hard hit will be:

  • Government agencies
  • Utilities
  • Health care
  • Social assistance
  • Finance
  • Insurance
  • Grantmaking, civic, religious & professional organizations

How to Retain Baby Boomers long enough to transfer their skills:

If possible, companies need to retain their older employees long enough to create a system for them to transfer their knowledge to younger workers. In order to do that, you may need to change some of your workplace policies.

The SHRM report revealed some of the top benefits that attract and retain older workers. The three most popular benefits all share a trait:

  • Work location: Flexibility with work locations was the most enticing benefit for older workers. I know many Washingtonians who go to Arizona in the winter. Perhaps if they could take their work with them, they wouldn’t have retired quite so soon.
  • Job flexibility: Second place went to job flexibility, such as reduced responsibilities
  • Work hours: Flexible work hours, such as job sharing or phased retirement, came in third

Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!

I kept a bookkeeper on staff for a couple extra years by reducing his duties and letting him work from home where he could take care of an ill spouse. In other words, recognizing older workers’ changing priorities and bringing flexibility to the table may help delay the abrupt loss of a valued employee.

Transferring Baby Boomers’ knowledge & skills to younger workers:

When someone does a job for many years, they end up with institutional knowledge in their heads, and it’s often not written down anywhere. You need to transfer that knowledge to other employees.

Cross-training programs:

Creating a formal cross-training program is an excellent way to facilitate the transfer of knowledge between your workers. This ensures that there is more than one person capable of performing a job’s essential functions.

If your older worker starts to work a more flexible schedule, the cross-trained employee can step in for them periodically to ensure they are fully capable in the position.

Mentorship programs:

Pairing an older worker as a mentor to a younger worker has many advantages in the workplace.

Mentorship helps younger workers witness soft skills in action — and teaches them why those soft skills have been important in the growth and success of their mentor’s career.

I’ve written before about the unique challenges of managing a multi-generational workplace. Mentorship programs also break down common barriers between Baby Boomers and Millennials, creating better relationships between coworkers.

A warning about age discrimination:

One note of caution: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects anyone over the age of 40 against age discrimination.

If you ask a 64 year old employee what their retirement plans are, and then you take some adverse action against them shortly after that, you may very well find yourself with an age discrimination lawsuit. However, you do have the right to ask all employees what their long-term goals are with the company.

It’s a good idea to ask this as part of employees’ annual performance reviews. Hopefully, your retirement-aged employees will feel free to tell you about their future plans. Then, you can start a succession planning process and let them know what their own options are.

The wrap-up:

Companies can safely weather the loss of Baby Boomers by:

  • Working together
  • Offering employees flexibility to phase into their retirements
  • Acknowledging the value of their employees by asking them to transfer their knowledge to others
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