Newsweek called it the “Brain Drain”, but some frustrated and fearful leaders have other names for the conundrum of tenured workers leaving and not feeling motivated to pass their wisdom or experience on to those staying behind in their roles. How do you motivate those about to retire to leave the workplace even better than they found it when they arrived? How do you motivate them to teach what they know before they go?
As a workforce fills up with “young whipper snappers” who inherently believe they know everything and they’re all working side by side those who can more likely claim to know nearly everything… at least about a company they’ve worked in for years, the near retirement worker can grow tired of trying to be heard. They can begin to feel like they’re no longer needed, being replaced by a younger, often cheaper model, and then begin to resent not being valued for all the contributions they may have made that even you the leader was not around to see. Ask for their input. Leave them with a feeling that you value their insight, information, and wisdom. Not because you need it before they go, but because without their voice you wouldn’t have anyone else to tell you the story of how the business got to where it is now. History usually repeats itself. Isn’t their value in knowing what your company history is and how to avoid the same mistakes or repeat the successes?
When someone has poured blood, sweat and tears into a company, a job, or a business and they then feel summarily dismissed, they might begin to question “what’s the point?” or “why did I do all of that?” If the answers aren’t satisfactory, do you really think they’re going to share? Appeal to the desire for what they did to have made a difference and to have left a lasting impact. We all want to feel as if our contributions made a positive difference and leave a positive legacy. Why not give the retiring worker a chance to do just that and put all of their wisdom on paper, leaving a guidebook of sorts for others to follow and remember them by when they retire?
How many times have we listened to someone wiser than our years or experience and thought or said, “Yes, but you don’t understand.” In my experience, someone who has been there done that, understands far more than I usually give them credit, or at least that’s what they tell me when I mess it up and then come to them for help with my tail between my legs. What if you listened intently to the perspective of the soon to retire worker, for whom your current issue is “not their first rodeo” and they’ve dealt with before or can see from a perspective that is different than the other you have that might not be working.
At the deepest level, we all want to feel appreciated and needed. Yet when it comes to the office place, with titles, budgets, and the reality of a transitioning workforce, we seem to forget that those who are retiring ARE needed and feeling that way the time of their departure is a key driving force to help them WANT to share what they’ve learned. The question is usually “Is anyone interested in listening?”