Retiring baby-boomers leave managers at a loss

Jun 12 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The mass retirement of America's baby-boomers is no longer a challenge on the horizon. Employers are already starting to feel the effects as their sixty-somethings depart, not least in an exodus of highly experienced senior leadership and middle management.

But according to a survey by consultancy Buck Consultants, WorldatWork and Corporate Voices for Working Families, the fallout from the retirement of the baby-boom generation is far from uniform across all sectors of the economy. Instead, it is particularly affecting certain industries, such as healthcare and oil and gas.

The poll of more than 480 organisations found that more than four out of 10 described the ageing of their workforce as a significant issue.

Of this group, half had a majority of mature workers eligible to retire in five to 10 years, while half of these were also concerned about a current shortage of skilled workers.

But a considerably larger proportion Ė some two thirds - of the employers polled in the healthcare sector said an ageing workforce was a significant challenge for them, with a similar story emerging in the oil and gas industry.

In contrast, industries such as manufacturing and technology were less likely (34 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) to view the issue as being so threatening.

The departure of senior leadership was identified as the greatest potential risk associated with the exodus of mature workers, cited by more half of the companies polled.

This was followed by the departure of middle management (41 per cent), and technical talent and knowledge workers (39 per cent).

"It's more than just a problem of not having enough bodies to replace retiring boomers," explained James Sowers, managing director of Buck Consultants' human resource management practice.

"The real challenge is transferring their knowledge and talents to succeeding generations of workers," he added.

Sowers said more than half of the companies polled were using or planning to institute formal mentoring programs, knowledge gap analyses (69 per cent) and intergenerational work teams (44 per cent) as strategies to address this talent challenge.

More than eight out of 10, however, regardless of their industry, had not surveyed their mature workers to determine future work preferences or intentions.

Four out of 10 had not even identified who was responsible in their organisation for knowledge transfer and knowledge management.

"Solving the problems posed by the ageing workforce is going to require out-of-the-box thinking," said Ryan Johnson, WorldatWork director of public affairs.

"We need to get rid of the idea that retirement is freedom from all work and change it to the notion of retirement as freedom to do different kinds of work," he added.

To address retention of retirement-eligible workers, nearly half now offered flexible work schedules, and nearly a quarter planned to do so.

Four out of 10 offer consulting assignments to older workers, while nearly half offered or were considering phased retirement and 43 per cent either already were or planned to consider alternative job design.

Among the survey's other findings, it was clear that the cost increases associated with knowledge and skills transfer resulting from the loss of ageing workers were perceived as being highly significant, something cited by nearly two thirds of the poll.

The vast majority of ageing workers, it also found, wanted to remain in the workforce because of financial reasons, with the sort of benefits an employer offered now a key measure of job quality (86 percent).

And, while mature workers were valued for their knowledge, reliability and dedication, more than half of the employers polled reported they did not actively pursue mature workers when recruiting.