Friday, November 17, 2006

The Impact of a "Retirement Culture" on New Employees

Imagine for a moment you are a new employee, in the early stages of your career, and have joined an organization with a long corporate history and a fairly large cadre of long-serving employees less than 10 years from retirement eligibility. You are excited to be there... filled with optimism, potential, desire to make a difference... make a mark for yourself... anxious to meet others who share your enthusiasm, and with whom to build towards the future.

Then you start noticing an interesting set of behaviors.

There are regular retirement parties and receptions hosted by the organization. There are also parties for long years of service; fifteen years, twenty five years etc. Human Resources announces regular retirement preparation seminars. There is an organizational preoccupation with knowledge risks associated with departing employees. You hear about many spontaneous after-work get togethers of small groups of long-serving employees, often meeting with recent retirees to stay in touch and celebrate their new "lives." In elevators, hallways, in the cafeteria you hear snippits of conversations about retirement. There are retirement conversations in the social talk before and after formal meetings. You overhear conversations where people say "I'll be glad to get out of here.. " "I can't wait to retire.. "Only X days!"

Of course, in the context of broader corporate culture, there are often many more signs of what is becoming uppermost in the minds of many.

So, as a new employee, how does this make you feel? Is it a motivator, or demotivator? Do you see it as an opportunity, or a reason for escape? Is it a sign of the early stages of organizational renewal, or the later stages of organizational decline?

Ultimately, I don't think there is any value in attempting to prevent retirement coming to the forefront of many organizations - it would be too much like a fish trying to swim upstream. But what would have value is to consciously devote more focus on the new employee.

  • looking carefully at the characteristics of different generations and what they seek in the work environment and employee / employer relationships
  • recognize that the definition of "retain" in "attract and retain" will mean different things in the very near future, if it doesn't already
  • craft a challenging - ENGAGING - work environment that helps maximize their value, contribution, and voluntarism while they are in the organization
  • build opportunities and work process that support the collaborative co-creation of new knowledge with co-workers, and the capture of vital foundational knowledge as a seamless part of the process
  • consistently recognize the value of ALL employees, not just the upcoming retirees, whether explicitly or implicitly.


Mark said...

I've had the experience of working in some of these environments and noticed that the major failing is a lack of a succession plan. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is nary a thought given to the rate of departures versus the rate of new hires. This lack of foresight could result in organizations having to rethink their lines of business as the knowledge and experience related to the existing ones heads to the golf course and beaches.

Dale Arseneault said...

You've no doubt heard the phrase "if it were not for the last minute, nothing would ever get done?" (It's one that I curse myself about often when I procrastinate too much.. )

We've all heard about organizations who wait until a crisis occurs before taking action - sometimes for valid reasons.. sometimes not.

I too have heard about organizations who do not succession plan, or who do not have a strategic workforce planning initiative underway. They get caught short handed, and it affects organizational efficiency/effectiveness and / or profitability.

But if I can, let me leverage off one of your phrases, ".. having to rethink their lines of business as the knowledge and experience related to the existing ones heads to the golf course and beaches."

The traditional talent management process is acquire -> deploy -> develop -> retain, with the major effort on acquire and retain.

I think one of the major challenges organizations are facing is a) the need to retool their businesses ANYWAY in the context of how knowledge work is being done, and will be done in the future (e.g. wikinomics) and b) looking for a new way to do succession planning given that the era of "long service" with a single firm is a thing of the past.

Even the best intentioned of firms who manage to build in time to look strategically at workforce issues are facing serious challenges in thinking differently, while constrained by well used, comfortable decision models.

"it was the best of times, it was the words of times.. "

Note, Deloitte has an interesting article out titled What Acquisition and Retention Strategies Don't Work wherein they introduce develop -> deploy -> connect. According to the paper, 67% of people learn most when working together with a colleague on a task, which sets the stage for focusing on "connect" .. I think there maybe something there..