How to Manage People's Retirement

Transferring Knowledge While Maintaining Motivation

How to Manage People's Retirement - Transferring Knowledge While Maintaining Motivation

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Retirees can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience to your team and organization.

Retirement is a major life event, but it can prompt conflicting emotions.

Some people can't wait to retire. For them, it can mean spending more time with their family, working on their hobby, sleeping in, travel.

But for others, it means taking a scary and unpredictable leap into the unknown. It might result in their income dropping. Or, they might love what they do, and fear that retiring will rob them of purpose. Perhaps they feel forced into it because a family member is ill, or because they are legally obliged to do so.

More people than ever before are expected to retire in the next few years. So it's essential that you know how to confidently guide older members of your team through the twilight of their careers.

In this article, we explore eight steps for managing a team member's retirement, and how to handle the impact on your team.

How to Manage a Team Member's Retirement

Managing a team member's retirement can be tricky, particularly if you're unsure whether he or she is looking forward to it or dreading it.

The following eight steps can help you to manage it sensitively and effectively:

1. Start a Conversation

Before you start planning a team member's retirement, talk to him. It's best to have this conversation well ahead of time (some experts suggest five to 10 years before expected retirement).

Avoid asking him direct questions or using the term "retirement" unless he's already brought it up himself. Otherwise you may fall foul of age discrimination legislation.

Instead, ask him open questions about his aspirations. This will help you to broach the subject sensitively. A good starting point is to ask him where he sees himself in the short, medium and long term.

You could even make these discussions part of your formal appraisal process. This way he won't feel singled out and will more likely raise the issue himself.


Always get the advice of your HR or legal department before raising the subject of retirement with an employee. It will know the local legal requirements that you'll need to observe when a team member is approaching retirement.

In the U.S., for example, the 1986 Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against any employee over the age of 40 on the basis of age. In the U.K., mandatory retirement has been abolished, although there are exceptions for certain physically demanding jobs.


You can't force retirement on someone, but there are some instances where you could suggest voluntary retirement. For instance, if your company is in financial trouble and needs to make layoffs, or if your team member feels burned out, is ill, or has a second income stream.

But remember, only suggest these options when it's absolutely necessary, and always seek advice from your legal and human resources teams in advance.

2. Identify Appropriate Support

Many people struggle with the prospect of transitioning from work to retirement. This is hardly surprising. After all, it's a drastic change in lifestyle, not just financially, but psychologically and emotionally, too.

For instance, it will likely mean that your retiree sees less of the people with whom she's developed strong working relationships, or even friendships. She may also worry how she will fill her days once she's retired. Perhaps work gives her purpose. It may even form part of her identity. The loss of it can therefore cause anxiety and possibly even depression.

If you suspect that a team member is apprehensive about retiring, ask your HR department for advice. It might be able to direct her to support groups or offer her some counseling. Your company may even run a retirement preparedness or employee assistance program that can help her to get ready for leaving work.

3. Keep Your Retiree Motivated

Some people "count the days" until they retire. If this is the case with your retiree, it might cause him to lose focus and motivation, and his performance may drop.

In fact, he probably just has a different set of motivators as he approaches retirement. Learn what motivates him now, and keep him engaged.

An invitation to produce a "legacy" of good working practices, for instance, may be more appealing to him than a set of targets that will be fulfilled only after he's gone.


Of course, it's not always the case that people lose motivation in the run-up to their retirement, so don't ever assume this. Many older people remain as motivated as ever to do a good job, right up to their last day.

4. Start Succession Planning

You'll also need to consider the impact of your retiree's exit on the rest of the team. How will you manage her workload once she's gone? Will you delegate her tasks to other people, or will you need to recruit someone new?

Start succession planning as soon as she commits to a retirement date. Assess your team's capacity to absorb her responsibilities and plan how you'll reassign them. Then, organize a formal handover of responsibilities and schedule regular meetings with her to check the progress of the handover.

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5. Capture Knowledge

Your retiring team member likely has an extensive body of knowledge and experience that will likely prove extremely useful to your team and your business long after he's left. It's important that you capture this!

There are two main types of knowledge that you'll want him to pass on to you or to his successor: explicit and tacit.

Explicit knowledge is obvious and easy to define. It's the tasks that he completes and the processes that he uses to do so. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is harder to define. It's his experiences, working methods, best practices, and the creative solutions that he's refined over the years.

Use Knowledge Management strategies to capture both types of knowledge. You could, for example, conduct recorded interviews with him, or partner him with a colleague who can "shadow" him in the weeks or months leading up to his retirement.

Alternatively, ask him to write a "legacy document" that covers the different aspects of his role, the best practices that he uses, and some "tips and tricks" for his replacement. Legacy documents can be genuinely useful. They provide successors with a blueprint for the role that they will be taking on, and enable retirees to reflect on and be proud of all that they've achieved.

6. Ask Your Retiree to Consider Mentoring

Many large companies ask retiring workers to volunteer as mentors or coaches to their replacements. Retirees are often open to this because it demonstrates that the organization values their wisdom and their years of service. They also gain the personal satisfaction of helping to develop a colleague's skills and knowledge.

Ieally, the mentoring arrangement should begin before the retirement date, but it can continue afterward, assuming that the retiree is willing to take part.


You can help your retiring team member to plan out her mentoring sessions using our Bite-Sized Training workbook on Mentoring Skills. She may also benefit from reading our article, Mentoring Agreements and Coaching Plans.

7. Explore Opportunities to "Stay On"

Many older workers naturally feel tired and "ready for a change" before they retire, but that may not mean that they want to sever all ties to their job, particularly if they've worked in a company for a long time.

Ease your team member into retirement by offering him flexible, part-time work or a working from home arrangement.

Alternatively, he could stay on but in a slightly different role. For example, if he began his career on the shop floor before working his way up to middle management, he might consider going back to customer service for a year or two. This would give your him fewer responsibilities and less stress, and give you more time to soak up his valuable knowledge.

8. Celebrate Your Retiree's Achievements!

When her last day finally comes round, take the time to celebrate her accomplishments.

Tailor your celebrations to suit her personality. Some people don't like a big fuss and may prefer to keep it small. Respect her wishes, but be sure to say a few words that express your gratitude for her work and acknowledge all that she's achieved during her career.

To prepare, go over the projects that she's worked on. What were the positive impacts on the organization? How has she helped her colleagues out? And what have you learned about her over the years? Creating a positive narrative like this can help you to establish a strong sense of legacy. It'll also ensure that she leaves on a high note.

Key Points

Retirement is a major life event, and people can respond to it positively or negatively. It's essential that you are able to confidently guide your people through it, so that they can end their careers with dignity.

At the same time, you need to be able to facilitate the handover of valuable knowledge and skills between your retiree and his or her successor.

You can do this by following these eight key steps:

  1. Start a conversation.
  2. Identify appropriate support.
  3. Keep your retiree motivated.
  4. Start succession planning.
  5. Capture knowledge.
  6. Ask your retiree to consider mentoring.
  7. Explore opportunities to "stay on."
  8. Celebrate your retiree's achievements!