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Capture the Intellectual Property of Retiring Employees

Door handleEmployers: Use Age Diversity to Your AdvantageA number of demographic changes have occurred in recent decades that add "dimensions to people's experiences of age and aging," according to a research report published by The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.The study, "Through a Different Looking Glass: The Prism of Age," found that:• People are living longer and generally have more years of health and vitality. A new stage of life has emerged after middle age but before frail "elderhood."• Workers are extending their time in the labor force into what were traditionally thought of as the retirement years. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 19% of people over the age of 65 are working or actively looking for work. That percentage is expected to grow to 21.8% by 2026.• There are shifting norms about what older people want to do, can do and should do. A retirement built entirely around leisure has lost its appeal for many.The report states: "Employers need a way to think about the different aspects of the aging experience so that they can use age diversity in the workplace to the organization's and its employee's advantage."How many Baby Boomer employees (those born between 1946 and 1964) will be leaving your organization in the next five years?

When retiring employees clear out their desks and walk out the door for the last time, they often leave with fond memories — as well as vast amounts of intellectual property stored in their brains.

Unfortunately, few organizations take the time to "debrief" retiring employees. Increasingly, companies are rethinking their approach and deploying innovative work arrangements that provide for the transfer of invaluable intellectual capital before employees retire. This can include:

  • Four-day work weeks,
  • Work from home arrangements,
  • Job sharing,
  • Part time work, and
  • Consulting and special project assignments.

Slowly easing retiring employees toward the exit sign can ensure that your company retains its intellectual property, as well as help employees smoothly transition into the next phase of their lives. With a proactive plan, important information and processes can be conveyed effectively from retiring employees to those remaining.

But that's not all. Here are some more considerations:

Phasing retirement can avoid compromising relationships with customers and clients. Understanding your their expectations and responding accordingly can make the difference between financial success and failure.

Employees often establish long-term relationships with customers and clients that are based on trust and mutual respect. When an employee with decades of experience leaves an organization, the effect on the customer base can be dramatic. People inherently dislike change. If a connection with an employee is suddenly broken, customers may take it as a sign to move their business elsewhere.

Delaying the expenses of hiring and training. Finding suitably qualified candidates for vacancies can be time consuming and costly. Once a candidate accepts the position, the hard work really begins.

Depending on the size of your company, teaching a new employee the company's processes and technologies can take months or sometimes years. That's assuming that the employee doesn't leave for a more promising opportunity before the training are over. If that happens, the process starts over, often to the frustration of staff members asked to train yet another new employee.

Keeping retiring employees engaged in some way is far less costly than it might have been in previous decades. People are living longer, healthier lives. With medical advances and increased awareness of the dangers of certain lifestyles, life expectancy continues to increase for most segments of society. As employees expect to live longer, they are taking better care of themselves. Healthier employees result in lower health expenses and less sick time taken.

At the same time, due to business technological advances, it's now easier to have older employees in many jobs work from home, either full-time or part-time. And as noted in the research report described in the sidebar at the right, older people don't necessarily want a leisurely retirement where they don't work at all.

An additional benefit of retaining older workers stay on is that they are less likely to waste time on social media and other Internet distractions. While some members of younger generations spend hours glued to their phones and other devices, older employees may embrace social media, but it doesn't generally control them. According to various studies, businesses are losing billions of dollars a year as a result of employees spending work hours online. Mature employees are less likely to spend hours updating their statuses and tweeting at work.

Bottom line: Offering Baby Boomers a phased exit plan allows them to gradually prepare for retirement while allowing employers to maximize the value of their efforts — often at lower effective salaries. If structured correctly, alternative work options won't limit the potential for younger employees to advance. In fact, such arrangements may actually accelerate the advancement of younger employees, as they are able to fully incorporate the lessons learned from the previous generation's experiences.

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