As more baby boomers retire, employers are discovering that they’re missing more than their former colleagues’ comforting presence and wisdom. They’re losing years of institutional knowledge about products, customers, vendors – along with lessons learned from past mistakes.
Of the 80 million baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964, 45 percent are now retired, with 3.6 million becoming eligible to retire each day. And the impact on their employers can be substantial. Up to 50 percent of most company institutional knowledge is expected to be lost when baby boomers leave their jobs. And 72 percent of HR professionals see that as a big problem.
A report by The Conference Board, How to Transfer Knowledge in Today’s Multigenerational Workplace, provides a couple of suggestions to help employers retain institutional knowledge, including phased retirements and reverse mentoring programs.
American Express and Black and Veatch are cited in the report for protecting their institutional knowledge through phased retirements. This allowed more experienced workers to stay with the company as consultants or over a period of transition until their insights and experience were completely handed over to their successors.
Phased retirement allows employees to gradually give up their day-to-day responsibilities, while replacing some of their free time with mentoring younger employees or teaching classes inside the company.
Reverse mentoring programs were also suggested as a means for younger employees to teach new technology to older workers, which in the process facilitates a level of reciprocity where the seasoned employees share their experiences and knowledge with their younger mentors. It also fosters trust between the two generations of workers.
A third approach, not included in the report, is the creation of a shared knowledge base to capture aging employees’ background in one centralized location. This project can be created as part of a phased retirement program, allowing experienced workers to create a sort of time capsule or their personal stamp on the company’s history. Specific information can be captured about company and customer histories, previous product launches and initiatives, or an archive of steps taken to prevent or respond to corporate catastrophes.
Take a look at the baby boomers in your office and think to yourself, “do we really know all they know from 10 to 20 years on the job?” Then think about how much you’d pay to have access to that knowledge again at a critical point in the future. The time to capture that data is now, before it’s too late.