Handling People's Retirement
Transferring Knowledge and Maintaining Motivation
Smoothing the transition.
Many people look forward enthusiastically
to retirement. It seems like a dream of something fabulous
that will happen "someday." Sleeping in, golfing, playing bridge,
traveling the world – all at their leisure.
Well, believe it or not, that day is very close for millions of
people around the world. 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. The numbers speak for
themselves: 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 nearing retirement, how do you start preparing for your
last year at work? How will you stay motivated, when all you want to
do is plan your life of leisure once you're gone?
And if you're managing people approaching retirement, how will you guide them
through this period, and make sure your younger generation of workers has the
tools they need when it's their time to take over?
We'll cover retirement issues from both of these angles, and show
you what to do to prepare.
Part I: Walking Out the Door
If you're counting the days until you can yell, "I'm gone!" then
this section is for you.
Looking forward to your new life of relaxation and leisure is
normal, but it's important to stay motivated during your final
months at work. Wasting time daydreaming, day after day, isn't
fair to an organization that may have provided well for you these past few
So, how do you stay motivated until it's time to leave?
- Become a mentor.
When you stop and think about it, you have years of insider
knowledge about your organization, your industry, and your
customers. Even the most highly qualified new business school
graduates simply can't know the details, the history, and the
people that you do. So, one way to stay energized about work is to
become a mentor to people in the younger generation, who will move up after
you're gone. Why not take the time to pass along your hard-won
knowledge? Learn more about mentoring.
- Get organized.
If you were taking over someone else's job, would you want to walk
into a disorganized mess? Probably not. Before you leave, organize
all of your files (electronic and hard copy) so that the person
replacing you can make an easy transition. And don't be afraid to
get rid of the unnecessary stuff. This can also keep you motivated
in your day-to-day tasks. See The Art of Filing for more on this.
- Prepare an "orientation" booklet.
What do you wish you had known when you first started your job?
What are your secrets for getting the work done? What shortcuts
have you found along the way? Think about what you've learned over
the years, and write it down for the next person. This is not only
a nice thing to do, but you'll feel better as well. Documenting
your knowledge will help make your replacement's job easier, and
it can be fun for you.
Part 2: Managing the Shrinking Workforce
If you're in management, you might be nervous when you look at
just how much human capital you'll lose over the next decade. 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. For example, the office manager who makes
flight reservations, orders office supplies, and hires company
vehicles probably knows the best vendors and which negotiating
tactics work best for each. These skills are often overlooked, but
they 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
- 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, especially
for those who would enjoy a more gradual transition from the busy
world of work to a life of peace and quiet.
- 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 for a year or two. This would
give them fewer responsibilities and lower stress, but still keep
them in the company and available for mentoring.
Even if the retiring team
member doesn't formally change roles for his last year or
so, be flexible when introducing new technology. If he or she isn't
a strong technology person, but you adopt a new technology
several months 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
- 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 are starting to 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
also partner her with a younger replacement, who will "shadow" her
for weeks or months before she leaves, to capture her tacit
- 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.
Whether you're getting ready to retire or you're managing
individuals who are about to retire, take steps to make the most
of those years of experience. You don't want all that hard-won
knowledge, which your company needs to succeed, to just walk out
of the door.
If you're about to retire, look for ways to document and share
what you know. This may help keep your motivation high, and it
will make your replacement's transition much less stressful.
If you manage team members who will retire soon, find out if they
would be willing to mentor younger workers. Start creating
strategies to slow this outflow of knowledge – capture future
retirees' knowledge through exit interviews and "shadowing," and
consider allowing flexible work arrangements.
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