There are challenges in all industries with the generational gaps of employees. With the oldest Baby Boomers at the traditional age of retirement, we will see a dramatic shift as these long-time professionals leave the workforce. Some organizations will face an accompanying knowledge and skills deficit if they do not take steps to prevent it.
The ever-changing workforce is creating divides like no other generation. Today’s gap between older and younger workers is causing silos to be developed hindering the growth of companies. Our youth can learn a lot from the older generation from years of knowledge, fine-tuning, and expertise. The older generation can equally learn a great deal of information from the new youth with their enthusiasm, drive, and will to make a difference.
Approximately 80 million Boomers are due to retire over the next 15 years.
Luckily, this turnover is not likely to happen overnight. The youngest Baby
Boomers are probably not quite thinking about retirement yet, while many older
Boomers are resisting retirement and prefer to continue working for financial
and personal reasons. As these workers begin to turn in their resignations,
they will leave a noticeable gap; while your organization can easily fill those
positions with willing employees, it may be harder to replace the specialized
skills, knowledge, and on-the-job expertise that your Boomers accumulated over
Will those valuable assets retire along with your oldest experts?
The organizational effort of attempting to keep the job knowledge of employees consistent despite turnover is called knowledge transfer. Do not think of this as an “exit-interview” strategy where you sit down with Billy Joe a week before he leaves to ask him everything he knows about his job. Knowledge transfer is an organization-wide effort to build long-term knowledge continuity across the board.
How do you go about knowledge transfer?
There are many methods for
transferring employee knowledge but for any of them to succeed, employers must
be open to sharing information, encourage employees to teach each other, and
value the knowledge that individual employees hold.
For any type of knowledge sharing, nothing beats face-to-face interaction, and you will want to encourage passion and excitement about this type of sharing. Start by reviewing the current culture and environment within your company and be prepared to work with what you have.
Here are a few simple changes that you can make for a big impact.
- Evaluate your work environment. Look at the physical layout of your workspaces. Do you have areas where people can exchange ideas and information? Are your hallways wide enough to accommodate conversation? If you see a gathering place—whether it is the break room or an empty corner—consider installing a whiteboard or flip chart there and see what happens. Although you cannot mandate knowledge transfer, there are many things you can do to encourage it.
- Create learning opportunities throughout your organization. Do not just talk about learning—institute opportunities that will allow everyone to learn. This type of learning does not occur through professional development opportunities (i.e., classroom training), but rather, through knowledge sharing. Approximately 70% of learning happens on the job, and an additional 20% occurs with and through others. Try asking specific employees to lead informal “lunch and learns,” start a mentoring program, ask willing Millennial employees to videotape interviews with company experts and post them on your intranet—get creative!
- Be open to changing your definition of “learning.” You must have confidence that your employees want to do a good job and let them do it. It might not be a traditional way of learning that you would suggest, but you may be surprised by the outcomes.
- Facilitate intergenerational interaction. Creating focus groups to work on different internal programs or solutions can get multiple generations and leadership levels in a room to collaborate on ideas. It creates a safe space where they can work together and learn from each other.