As boomer employees retire in large numbers, it will do more than change the average employee's waist size, hair color, and infatuation with social media. Boomers will take with them huge troves of personal contacts, technical know-how, and organizational culture and tradition. That's why businesses that succeed in the coming decade or so will be those that can keep these irreplaceable employees from prematurely leaving. Lisa Orrell, a San Jose, California, consultant on generational differences and author of the forthcoming Boomers Into Business, (Wyatt McKenzie, September 2011), says here's how you can do it:
Treat them like kids. When it comes to flexibility, at least. Orrell notes that employers are finding that accommodating personalized work-styles -- a common demand for members of the Millennial generation -- is also encouraging Boomers to postpone retirement. "The Boomers are saying maybe they don't want to fully retire, but they want to work from home, work part-time, or work on a flex-time basis," she says.
Assign them a mentor. That means having a younger employee mentor someone nearing retirement. Reverse mentor programs matching a 55- to 60-year-old with a twenty- or thirty-something can help older workers master Facebook, Twitter, smartphone apps and the like. Being more comfortable with technology can mean comfort with postponing retirement. "Some boomers are choosing to leave the workforce because technology is moving so fast and they're embarrassed that it's taking them longer to grasp it," Orrell says.
Offer a second career. Career customization is the practice of retraining people to do new jobs without leaving the company. Often, this sort of in-company job change can reignite fire in the belly and enable an employer to retain a valuable employee. "What can we do to retain that person?" Orrell asks. "You can train them to do anything."
Enough with the generic carrots. While you're customizing careers, customize incentives. "A lot of companies have in place an across-the-board reward program: Everybody that does well gets this," Orrell says. But the cash bonus that lights up a younger employee's face may disappoint an older worker who really wanted more time off. Get rid of one-size-fits-all rewards, get to know your employees, and offer them the incentive they want.
Let them go, but not completely. If a valued boomer is dead set on retiring, offer to bring them back as a part-time consultant. "They get flexibility, and you still get their knowledge base to educate new or younger employees," Orrell notes. And you'll save money, too: A part-time consultant's fees are likely to be a lot less than pay and benefits for a senior employee.
Knowing your employees is essential to crafting effective Boomer retention policies, Orrell says. Everybody's different, and you may have to get creative with things like company-paid eldercare insurance for employees coping with ailing parents. Anything is probably better than nothing, because nothing may not work out well for employers who let their corporate brain trust escape to retirement. "The companies that don't embrace some of the things we've discussed are doing to be left in the dust," says Orrell.
Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, freelance journalist whose reporting on business, technology and other topics has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications. Learn more about him at The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.
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