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The Big Boomer Exodus:
Responding to the Loss of Experienced Talent

By Marsha Lindquist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005, America’s seventy-six million Baby Boomers began to reach age sixty at a rate of one every seven seconds. Thirty-five million Boomers will retire between 2000 and 2020, and in the decade after that, another twenty-three million will join them. Just two years from now, workers ages forty-five and older will comprise forty percent of the workforce.

If you haven’t already noticed this trend in your own organization, get ready: a good portion of your workforce will be leaving in the next two to ten years, and they’ll be taking their years of experience and hard-earned talent with them. As a consequence, you’re going to have a hard time meeting your clients’ needs, unless you have a plan in place and operating now.

While once workers over age forty were tossed out or passed over for promotions, that’s much less prevalent now. Enlightened CEOs know now that their experienced people’s knowledge is a tremendously valuable asset.

What To Do? You can’t stop at hand-wringing and bemoaning your losses, wondering what you can do. To fill the gaps created by older, more experienced workers now and in the years to come, you’ll have to think outside the box a bit, exploring new options, especially retaining your “retirees” and bringing in bright, up and coming college students to learn from and work alongside them. When you combine those people who have years of experience with students in a mentoring program, you’ll keep what’s best about your organization alive and well.

Though they’ve left the workforce, many retirees still want to be productive, so among those who’ve already retired, the trend for many is to develop their own businesses. As a consequence, they not only leave an enormous vacuum of talent when they leave, but they can also become your competition!

Many college students, too, want to make a contribution, and few would pass up the opportunity to get real-world experience that they would ordinarily have to wait years, even decades, to acquire. While they don’t have experience, they bring the right attitude to the table

You need your older workers’ extremely well-developed talent, and you also want to harness the kind of talent that still needs to be developed, but that has the right attitude. This gives you the best of both worlds. To facilitate this plan, you need to find ways to retain your experienced employees. You’ll need bring them back differently than before they retired. They won’t accept the same deal they’ve always had, and that deal likely isn’t in your company’s best interests, anyway. Creating this mentoring program is in your best interests. And here are some steps to do it in your own organization:

  • Offer retirees part-time or consulting arrangements. Older, more experienced workers have “done their time” and often don’t want to work full-time anymore. On the other hand, many will seek more than a leisurely retirement. They will want to spend time with their families, developing hobbies and perhaps traveling and generally enjoying life. But completely saying goodbye to a lifelong career can be tough, and many will feel unproductive. The upside for you is that their experience allows them to accomplish in less time the same job that you would have to hire someone with less experience to do, who would take a lot longer to do it! So retirees can work part-time, and it all evens out in the end—a win-win situation for all concerned.

  • Divvy up jobs and hours. Bring along college students by giving them part of the job that the experienced people used to do. Let the older person mentor the younger, showing the student how to do the job but not giving him or her full responsibility to alleviate unnecessary pressure. If you can pair these two types of employees up, you will begin to get great benefits almost immediately.

  • Full-time is so 20th century. Most companies think they need to create and fill only full-time positions. But consider the merits of job-sharing and offer it to retirees and college students. Hire two people who can share the job and cross-over one day or for a half-day each week to brief one another, review progress, and decide who’s responsible for what in upcoming projects. This arrangement will meet both groups’ needs for time outside of work.

  • Offer appropriate benefits. Many experienced people don’t need certain benefits like sick leave and vacation time, because you’re not employing them full-time. But they may need health care or long-term care plans. Perhaps you could offer them summers or winters off to pursue adventures or just to relax. Similarly, college students don’t need full standard benefits packages, either. They may get health insurance from their school or their parents, for example, but perhaps they need tuition assistance or college credit for the time they work in your organization. One word of caution here: If you offer “cafeteria style” benefits where people get to choose from a wide list of options, make sure you’re following all applicable Federal regulations and that you offer such options to all your employees, not just certain who you feel need it.  

  • Mentor existing staff early. In addition to bringing in college students, part of your process when vacancies occur must be a plan to mentor your existing employees. As a rule, organizations have not nurtured less experienced employees in order to bring them up through the ranks. Because you are statistically unlikely to lure all of your retirees back, you need to utilize your experienced but pre-retirement employees for this mentoring role. When their talent and experience mean they no longer have to fight for their own careers anymore, that’s the time to enlist them to develop other people who can one day take their place, allowing you to promote from within.

Planning is Everything: An essential element of dealing with the mass exodus of valuable experienced Baby Boomers is to be aware of what’s happening—that your best people will be retiring—and then to begin your planning early. Even if they’re not retiring, simply planning to leave the organization because they’ve decided it’s time to move on, experienced employees usually will talk about their plans in evaluations and performance reviews, giving you the opportunity to react accordingly. The better prepared you are for this coming and growing trend, the more apt your company is to remain profitable, despite any staff changes.

Read other articles and learn more about Marsha Lindquist.

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