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<i>Dear Workforce</i> What Lessons Could We Learn From Other Companies About Holding On to Older Workers?

May 19, 2009
Dear Looking Ahead:
How do leaders support their baby boomer team members at midlife? Managers know that career development should be available to all, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender. It sounds good on paper, but it can be tricky to implement. Here's a model and some tips for engagement that focus on aspirations of many midlifers. See how the five components below relate to your employees and the role that you might play:
  • Cravings: Encourage boomers to tap their unused talents. Help them explore their skills and interests and determine which ones spark creativity. How to begin? Ask each direct report pertinent questions to discover their talents.
Here are a few for starters:
What are your favorite parts of the job?
What would you like to do more of? Less of?
What would you like to learn in the next two years?
How can I help you reach these goals?
  • Competence: Encourage them to raise their competence quotient. Responsibility for development rests with the individual, along with a supportive manager on the sidelines, and an organization that provides systems and structures. In this era of self-management, employees must continually hone their skills and behaviors. Besides content expertise, are your employees prepared to develop their technical skills, be more aware of other generations, balance work and life, expand their language ability and cultural know-how, integrate new information, deal with change and transfer knowledge? All of these are essential survival skills and abilities in the new workplace.
  • Competition: Help your boomers look internally and externally at what's happening in their professions. Managers need to coach direct reports to ensure they are aware of the impact of globalization, competition, deregulation, new technologies and emerging skills that change the nature of their work. At staff meetings or informal gatherings, ask questions.
What areas are growing within the organization now?
What are trends that could impact how we do our work here?
What skills would it be smart to increase over the next three to five years?
To get ahead of the curve in your profession, what could you do right now?
Employees should know how their current organization could be threatened in the not-too-distant future. Planning ahead is critical.
  • Choices: Help them identify their desired type of work, level of commitment and plan of action. How can managers help employees prepare for the future? Options like cross-training, rotational assignments, travel opportunities, short-term sabbaticals, temporary assignments and transition management need to be carefully considered and implemented as needs arise. Some of these possibilities are more feasible than others. To begin, initiate a dialogue about their interest in each of these learning vehicles.
  • Changes and concerns: Encourage their ability to transfer knowledge and take ownership for making it happen. Industries are facing major internal change as baby boomers retire. The issue of knowledge transfer is essential and is everyone's responsibility. Are experienced boomers working every day with younger people to help them understand problems and solutions? Do they know how to transfer their explicit knowledge and their tacit knowledge as well? "Legacy-leaving" is a viable, cost-effective way to solve problems internally, escalate creativity and build the next leadership tier.
These five areas are fertile ground to launch and expand conversations. These issues may be discussed in workshop settings, on the job or during one-on-one development, planning or performance review discussions. It doesn't matter who or what launches the discussion; what matters is that these conversations take place. As the shortage of workers escalates exponentially, future-focused leaders need to be strategic about how to keep their boomer talent engaged.
SOURCE: Beverly Kaye, founder and CEO, Career Systems International, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Joyce Cohen, a career development and life planning expert, May 2009
LEARN MORE: The ranks of workers 55 and older are swelling, yet few employers have adjusted to meet the needs of this strategically important segment of the workforce.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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