What are baby-boomers taking with them when they retire from the workplace? Years of experience and knowledge.

While millennials (25-34 year olds) average just three years with their current employer, boomers (50-64 year olds) average over ten years, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics released in September 2014.

This well-experienced workforce’s imminent exodus is viewed as a “problem or crisis” by about a third of HR professionals responding to a 2014 Society for Human Resource Management survey. Positions that require advanced degrees are particularly hard-hit, as are entire industries. While fresh blood and young workers bring cheaper labor, vitality and new ideas, some industries are already scrambling to meet the knowledge gap, particularly healthcare, mining, oil and gas, insurance, government and manufacturing. Consequently retiring employees are increasingly finding full- or part-time work back in the industries they left as employers try to fill the void.

From the Kepner-Tregoe perspective, an overdue first step in addressing this challenge is to ask, what is going on? Conducting an organization-wide situation appraisal with teams of cross-generational employees is a way to identify business concerns relating to retirements and determine what action should be taken. By separating and clarifying the issues, the teams can not only fully identify concerns but also weigh their relative importance to the business according to guidelines available in company strategies, business and operational plans and financial data. 

For organizations, having shared, systematic, processes for making thinking visible can transition key activities such as problem resolution, decision-making, risk management, opportunity development and project management. Each process should be repeatable, clear and consistent while engaging the experience of all participants—not only those with perceived subject matter expertise and domain mastery. A ready exchange of ideas in diverse teams of problem solvers, planners, and decision-makers can ease the transition as senior employees retire.

By forging a strong working relationship between the incoming and outgoing workforce generations, this changing of the guard has the potential to do more than just fill a gap. A foundation of commonality is necessary in today’s global economy and diverse workforce. Systematic, rational and visible approaches for exchanging ideas and addressing meaningful business issues are the answer to technical, cultural, and other kinds of change beyond today’s generational challenges.

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