Retaining older employees’ knowledge enhances competitive edge

Retaining knowledge when key workers retire could provide the competitive advantage employers need as they struggle to attract and retain talent. Ian Symes from Right Management explains.

A recent report from the World Health Organisation revealed that by 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over the age of 60 will nearly double from 12% now to 22%.

As the ageing workforce continues to grow, businesses are under more pressure than ever to support their employees’ transition to retirement, while also retaining the wealth of knowledge held by mature workers.

Holding on to knowledge and learning from our predecessors is not a new concept. The ability to learn from each other, share knowledge and advance our skills is key to innovation.

From the Great Depression and World War Two to the 2008 financial crisis and recent advances in technology, we have learnt through change and those who have come before us. This needs to continue if we are to build a prosperous future.

Handle with care

However, retirement is not an easy process. It is daunting, complex and can be fraught with emotional sensitivity over identity, value and process. It is vital that it is handled delicately, balancing a structured process with the specific needs of the individual. If it is not treated correctly, it can cause irreparable damage to not only the employee, but also a company’s culture.

The results? Businesses lose the expertise that could provide crucial differentiation and drive future growth.

So, how do businesses transition individuals through retirement, with the support, stability and care that honours their tenure at the company?

And critically, how do they ensure they retain the employee knowledge and skills that can provide that essential competitive differentiation?

Career conversations

It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges companies face is finding the right talent.

Talent is the battleground of the digital age, and businesses are not only competing to attract new employees, but also to retain their current workforce. Mature workers have a key role to play here.

With institutional knowledge and life experience specific to their organisation, it is just as vital that this expertise is protected from the clutches of rivals and used to inspire and educate the next generation.

It is a complex process and requires businesses to have a series of conversations with individuals as they begin their road to retirement.

By being open about the goals and incentives available, businesses can educate the maturing workforce on the opportunities at their disposal. In doing so, it will smooth the transition and meet both the business and individual’s needs.

Crucially, this level of clarity helps create a foundation of knowledge and trust. And, as retirement conversations progress, respect for the employee, their investment and tenure within the business is celebrated.

Finding the right transition

As businesses look to transition individuals towards retirement, there are a variety of tools that businesses can introduce that strike a balance between employee care and the transferring of expertise.

Fuelled by management conversations and learnability tests (as in, how willing the employee is to learn), organisations can build and agree a programme around an individual’s skills and how they will share those skills with more junior staff over a phased period.

Giving up work and entering a new phase of life is also no easy feat. Working with the HR department and line manager, mentoring schemes can also be effective in supporting employees through this journey.

Regular sessions with mentors and counsellors help prepare employees for the challenges they may face in this new dynamic and encourage them to share their experience before moving on.

Similarly, it is important that these individuals are established as mentors to the next generation. Connecting the mature workforce to junior employees facilitates the sharing of expertise, advice and invaluable life experience that can drive competitive advantage.

Furthermore, implementing complementary career management initiatives such as a “personal career focus” programme helps individuals to identify their strengths, values and drivers.

They can identify next steps in or out of the workplace, whether in the form of volunteering, self-employment, consultancy or other personal endeavours.

Inspiring the next generation

Ultimately, it is the employees who must remain at the centre of the process when transitioning towards retirement.

Whether it is the individual that is retiring or the workforce remaining, there is a delicate balance to be struck that can impact the company’s reputation if unsuccessful.

But, by introducing initiatives such as mentoring and structured retirement action planning, companies can provide mature workers with the tools and techniques they need to ensure they are effectively able to mentor their successors.

Furthermore, by focusing on utilising the experience of the individual, businesses can retain the vital knowledge, expertise and skills that can provide real value to their company.

Crucially this will also inspire the next generation to learn from those that have come before and spearhead innovation, now and into the future.

Ian Symes

About Ian Symes

Ian Symes is executive vice president, North America and Europe, Right Management

One Response to Retaining older employees’ knowledge enhances competitive edge

  1. Avatar
    Robert Johnson 15 May 2018 at 3:20 pm #

    I have just retired finishing up as the National Logistic Manager for a Company
    That had a turnover of £1.2 billion
    I am happy to help with mentoring of there are any opportunities.
    R Johnson

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