Strategies to Retain “Seasoned” Workers

Creating younger/older partner relationships and phased retirements could extend an older employee’s beloved career while giving a younger employee a significant leadership opportunity.

A recent Esquire article cited “an historic talent drain” with so many older employees due to leave the workforce in the coming years. The answer, writer Michael Clinton notes, is to find ways to keep more of these senior-aged employees in the company.

I have to admit, being part of tiny Generation X, I sort of looked forward to the day when the Baby Boomers would retire and open up new opportunities for advancement for people like me.

Maybe, however, there’s a way for both their generation and mine (and those younger) to win. While some older people desire staying in their exact job, with their current hours and responsibilities, many others want to continue doing the work they enjoy, but want greater flexibility. They also may want to continue doing only the parts of the job they most love, while letting the rest of it go.

Co-Equal Partner Pairs

One idea is to pair an older employee with a younger up-and-coming employee. The pair would be mentor and mentee, but also a pair that would share the workload together. Instead of the older employee being the younger employee’s boss, they would be co-equal partners. There would be an acknowledgement that the older employee would keep a more flexible—and possibly lighter—schedule, relinquishing all but the most cherished parts of the job to their younger partner.

The knowledge then is captured by the younger employee and put into immediate use. The older employee’s vast knowledge isn’t relegated to an online database or wiki, but is kept alive with that very person still a part of the company.

Phased Retirement

Another way to look at this plan is to think of it as a phased retirement. The older employee, who could be as young as 65 (or even younger) or as old as 80 (or even older) would openly be planning to make a workforce exit. That exit, however, would happen in gradual phases with their equally able (albeit much less experienced) partner slowly taking on greater responsibilities.

It’s the safest form of high-potential program/succession planning you could put in place. It’s succession planning with a safety net. If the younger employee, who has tremendous potential but is mostly untested, falters in their new role, their mentor is on standby ready to take the reins. Not to go overboard with the analogies, but it reminds me of when I was first learning to drive. The training car was rigged so both the driver side and front seat passenger side had working brakes. If I accidentally did something dangerous, the instructor could step on the brakes on my behalf, thereby averting a catastrophe. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep your highly promising, but not-too-experienced, young leaders from veering into the catastrophe zone?

A Two-Way Street

The older partner also could be given the cushion some may need to continue working. Older people sometimes, by their own admission, have “senior moments” in which a knowledgeable, capable person suddenly has trouble remembering a particular word or protocol, or mixes up one thing with another. With a co-equal partner, there is a co-pilot by their side to quickly fill in the blank and help them recover.

Sometimes the younger partner can make it possible for an older employee to stay in their job, period. That is true in cases where the person in a job role is expected to do physically demanding things, such as traveling often and/or participating in events that require significant walking, such as trade shows. Not all venues offer scooters, and not everyone is comfortable conducting business on a scooter (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The younger employee can be the older employee’s legs and physical stamina.

With so much knowledge and expertise to offer, and companies continuing to face a need for talent, why let your oldest and wisest employees go so quickly? Creating younger/older partner relationships and phased retirements could extend an older employee’s beloved career while giving a young (or middle-aged) employee a significant leadership opportunity.

Is your company making an effort to retain older employees? If so, how are you doing so?