Handling People's Retirement

Transferring Knowledge and Maintaining Motivation

Handling People's Retirement - Transferring Knowledge and Maintaining Motivation

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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 years.

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.

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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 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, 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 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 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 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.

Key Points

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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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi everyone,
    Many people seem to count the years until they can retire ... and then do all the things they dreamed about.

    However, life can be to short sometimes ... so why not start doing some of those things NOW. If we keep on putting off activities and interests until we have more free time, we might never get around to doing it.

    My suggestion is always to see how you could incorporate into your current life now those things that interest you. Even in some small way, by incorporating those activities into your current lifestyle, you will quite possibly enjoy yourself more, and quite possible 'clock watch' less.

    Here's to enjoying all that we do now ... rather than waiting until something happens like our retirement!

  • Over a month ago lulu wrote
    Interesting article James - is it compulsory in the USA or for any Mind Tools Members to answer this - to retire at retirement age?? In NZ retirement age is 65, but of course you can continue working if you wish. I know many people in their late 60's and 70's who are still productive and working full time.

    The idea of 'Orientation Booklet' is a good one, but not just limited to retirees. The last 2 jobs I left, I left that sort of 'manual'. I documented all that I knew, in sections - process on how to do things, people to contact, current areas of work and responsibilities etc etc as I know how much knowledge leaves with the person.

    I would really like to think that providing you are physically and mentally able to work, and you wish to continue working, then nothing will prevent that. Of course there are many who can't wait until they retire - I think I would like a mixture of either part time or volunteer work with my painting. That would be just perfect. Time to have stimulus from working, time to paint and time to just relax.

    And I only have another 15 years to wait.......!!