According to the Pew Research Center, an astonishing 10,000 people are expected to retire every day over the next decade as the aging baby boomer surge gets in full swing. In its wake, a massive outflow of human capital threatens to disrupt American business and it seems many companies are unprepared for the challenge. A recent study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed that only a small percentage of employers have taken action to address this pending loss of expertise.
Is your organization among them? If not, it’s time to get acquainted with the ins and out of knowledge transfer and put a plan in place for your company’s future generations.
Have you ever had that panicky moment when you can’t locate a critically important document? And then you realize that the only one who knows where to find it no longer works there? Most businesses have had this experience, and it’s a perfect, small-scale example of what happens when knowledge transfer goes by the wayside. At its core, knowledge transfer “seeks to organize, create, capture, distribute or share knowledge and ensure its availability for future users”. In other words, it passes on skill sets, expertise, best practices, and the like. It’s critical that longtime workers transfer the knowledge they’ve gained from their decades of experience to the employees who will be taking on their responsibilities. Often, this knowledge is hard to identify and pass on. Unlike a checklist or a binder full of procedures, it’s that stuff that’s inherently picked up over the years and seen simply as “know-how”. Couple that with the sheer amount of knowledge that older workers have under their belts, and you’re looking at a potential recipe for disaster.
Throughout history, baby boomers have revamped every facet of our culture. Music, fashion, politics, and the workplace, just to name a few. Now they’re poised to reshape retirement and take everything they know with them when they walk out the door. With four million baby boomers per year sneaking up on retirement age—and many of them in leadership positions—a wealth of accumulated skills and experience stands to be lost when they leave the workforce. First hand recollections about the development of critically important products and services. Networks, business relationships and key contacts that have been cultivated over decades.
This significant workplace threat has aptly become known as “The Baby Boomer Brain Drain.” Take these steps to avoid a ‘senior moment’ in your business:
Start by analyzing your workforce. It’s essential to first get a handle on your company’s exposure to this mega-generational shift. To begin assessing your risk of Baby Boomer Brain Drain, collect relevant data regarding age, tenure, job type and salary from your employee records. Use this information to determine how many baby boomers you have on staff and what positions they occupy in the organization. From there, you can prioritize the positions that are likely to be vacated first, along with those that require the most complex skill sets.
Identify viable ways to retain your older workers. Longevity and new cultural norms have caused many retirement-age employees to want and/or need to keep working. However, most of them don’t want to maintain the same workload they had when they were 40. Flexibility is often the key to keeping these older generations of workers around, so identify solutions that work for your business. Alternatives might include job-sharing, part-time schedules, flex time, telecommuting, phased retirement, and opportunities for consulting.
Seek your pre-retirees’ active involvement in capturing their knowledge. Be sure to emphasize their value to the organization so they don’t feel or perceive that they’re being ushered out the door. Most seasoned employees are happy to openly share their knowledge and are proud to help position the company for continued success. Don’t forget to identify younger emerging leaders and include them in the knowledge transfer process.
Nurture the transfer of knowledge. Create plentiful opportunities for mentoring and coaching in your organization. Structured one-to-one mentoring relationships may make sense, but routinely pairing older and younger workers in intergenerational work teams can also be valuable. Job shadowing and formal training sessions provide opportunities for detailed learning. Involving senior workers in new-hire training programs offers yet another way to facilitate the sharing of knowledge.
Make use of technology to augment personal interactions. Internal websites and blogs, for example, enable detailed knowledge of company history, processes and procedures to be compiled, continually updated, and readily available to employees. General Motors utilizes an internal mentor portal to connect older and younger workers. Duke Energy, the nation’s largest regulated utility, routinely shoots videos of seasoned employees walking through complex procedures. These videos are archived for future reference and are also used for training purposes.
Ultimately, businesses of all types and sizes must be prepared for this mega-generation to retire and devise ways to pass on the tacit knowledge that’s critical to future success. Is your organization ready to face the Baby Boomer Brain Drain? The HR Team is here to offer valuable tools, techniques and succession planning insights that can mitigate the loss of these retiring workers. Please contact our knowledgeable professionals to learn more.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.