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“Brain Drain” & The Aging Workforce

Brain Drain

Most of the “generational” news in the human resources world focuses on Millennial: what Millennials are looking for in a job, how to recruit Millennials, the Millennial management style. As Millennials creep (or dart, depending on your industry) up the corporate ladder, however, there’s another side to this story, one that is a bit less flashy, perhaps, but just as compelling.

Every day, 10,000 people in the United States become eligible for retirement, a trend the Pew Research Center says it expects to continue until 2030. That’s an alarming statistic for many employers, who are feeling the squeeze as experienced workers are leaving faster than their employers can find and train new talent to take their places.

So what can employers do to minimize the effects of this inevitable brain drain?

Step 1: Create a work environment that encourages experienced workers to stick around.

For employers who are concerned about what will happen when their most experienced employees leave, it may make sense to make some changes to accommodate the needs of their aging workers in order to keep them around longer.

Michael S. North, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Psychology Department at Columbia University, highlights several best practices that can help employers adapt to the needs of its aging workforce:

  • Offering flexible retirement options
    If you’re in an industry that generally has an older workforce (insurance, airline, construction, etc.), consider offering flexible retirement options or “phased retirement” options. Phased retirement plans allow employees to ease into retirement over the course of one or more years. These plans also allow employers to continue tapping into the knowledge of retiring employees and better plan for their eventual departure.
  • Creating new or adapting existing job roles
    Another option is to adapt an aging worker’s current job role from a full-time role to a part-time one. Employers may also want to consider creating new roles for older employees that make better use of their knowledge and expertise, such as roles in a mentoring, advisory or consulting capacity.
  • Changing workplace ergonomics
    While North stipulates that employers should be careful not to assume that all aging workers are in need of ergonomic adjustments, changes to workplace environment that make it more comfortable for older workers can benefit employers. He cites one example in which an auto company offered older workers who had been complaining about having sore feet special, more cushioned shoes and upgraded the size of the computer monitors for other workers experiencing strained eyes.

Other suggestions include implementing a health or wellness program that promotes and supports healthy living, investing in training or retraining programs to ensure all of your employees stay current with changing techniques and technology, and allowing employees to work more flexible schedules.

Step 2: Facilitate the transfer of knowledge between experienced and newer workers

We aren’t calling it a potential “brain drain” for nothing. A real concern amongst employers is that when their older workers retire, the company will lose decades of knowledge and experience that they may never be able to get back, or that will take decades for new employees to learn.

The key to battling brain drain is to create an environment that easily facilitates the transfer of knowledge from experienced to novice employees. There are a few approaches employers may choose to take to accomplish this:

  • Create a mentoring program.
    A mentoring program has many benefits, chief among them the opportunity for younger or newer workers to develop close working relationships with more experienced professionals in their field. Mentoring programs can range from formal “shadowing” programs (common in many fields like nursing or teaching), to more casual programs that simply encourage mentors/mentees to meet and talk in a more informal setting.
  • Create intergenerational teams.
    Depending on the size of a given business or department, it may be a good idea to intentionally create opportunities for younger and older workers to work together on special projects or teams.

Both of these strategies not only allow younger workers to learn from experienced employees, but also provide opportunities for older workers to learn from their younger counterparts.

Step 3: Make sure you’re taking a balanced approach

Whatever strategies employers choose to use to minimize the effects of brain drain, they should be cautious about putting too much emphasis on employees’ ages, as this may result in employees feeling discriminated against. The last thing any employer wants is to face an age-related discrimination lawsuit.

G&A Partners, a leading provider of administrative and HR services, offers a lifeline to employers by delivering both strategic as well as tactical HR support. Our team includes dozens of experienced HR professionals who study and understand the ins and outs of human resources management and labor law compliance in order to provide our clients with proven solutions and expertise.

Learn how G&A Partners can help you optimize your workforce by calling 1-866-634-6713 to speak with an expert or visiting www.gnapartners.com/get-started to schedule a free business consultation.

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