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Five Ways to Get the Most from Your Retirees’ Legacy

By Jesse Lent

As increasingly more baby boomers reach retirement, their legacy of innovation within the workplace is often brushed aside in the endless turnover of today’s business world.

And while it is easy to point to the social change accomplished in the areas of civil rights or gender equality as directly growing out of the 1960s, the more recent innovations of the boomer generation are often highly specialized, lacking the broad-based significance of such movements. Many ideas wouldn’t even have implications outside of one specific office.

However, these professional discoveries are undoubtedly formed out of insight specific to the boomer generation. It would appear that as the restless minds of the 1960s headed to the workplace, so did their ability to re-imagine the world.

But such innovations could potentially vanish as their generation leaves the workforce for retirement, unless something is done to preserve them now.

Here are five ways that you can maximize the ideas and experiences of the baby boomers in your workplace to ensure their life’s work lives on to help the next generation of employees.

1. Plan a show-and tell lunch session.

A Show-and-Tell session is a terrific start to encourage experienced staff members to open up about the lessons that their experience has taught them. Everyone likes a free lunch and it just might create the perfect setting for younger staff to gain helpful insight from senior employees.

“People with experience love to talk about their experience,” said Brooklyn lawyer Kristina Cerrone, who added: “[Lunch meetings are] something you could do and make sure people attend, if you feed them.”

The meetings could be more formal in tone with set speakers and a planned agenda. They could also have a less structured feel with a mediator asking staff nearing retirement questions about their time with the company, depending on the size and needs of your organization.

2. Organize a mentoring program.

“It would be a great way for new employees to learn the ropes in whatever new job they have to learn any nuanced ideas and to give them a further jumping off point wherever they’re working,” said Jessica Olsen, assistant in public programming at Lincoln Center when asked about boomers mentoring younger employees. A mentorship program can be the most direct way for retiring employees to impart their wisdom to younger employees. It can also be a great way to form lasting bonds within the workplace across generational divides.

3. Host an event.

Events are often planned to honor the innovations of retiring employees, however seldom to review or learn about them. Planned retrospectives of baby boomers’ accomplishments within the company with specific achievements and improvements explained and examined could be an excellent way to encourage an inventive spirit company-wide. They could also serve as another way to bring older and younger employees together. “The junior staff – since they’re more socially active – could plan and host an event where older staff is recognized and asked to share their experience,” Cerrone suggested.

4. Have the most experienced employees train the new hires.

Although it may seem intuitive to have the people within an organization with the most knowledge impart it to those who have the least, the corporate management structure seldom encourages such opportunities, particularly with new hires. That’s why incorporating employees nearing the end of their career could have a profound effect on maximizing training efficiency. “It just seems very practical,” said Julian Silverman a PhD student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “Right now I’m being trained by someone who is so much more experienced than me. There are actually very specific techniques that I would never be able to figure out on my own just by reading the manual. It’s just something that only years of experience can teach you.”

5. Encourage intuitive and transparent processes.

There is no fail-safe method to hold on to the years of insight that the millions of baby boomers across the nation have acquired in the workplace. There is also not one way to encourage older employees to share their experience that is appropriate for every organization. However, the more office resources retiring employees can produce while they are still on the payroll, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

“If you have someone who is retiring write a book that can be saved in the office on how they ran whatever they were working on — to be shared with whoever takes over when they’re gone — their ideas could be preserved and then the good ideas from that book could influence your employees,” Olsen said.

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