Easing the Transition When Workers Retire

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When workers retire, they take with them institutional knowledge that younger workers depend on. With an increasing number of baby boomers retiring, companies must work to ensure that younger workers are able to do their jobs. Doing so requires advanced planning and coordinated efforts across departments and generations. It also requires investment in training programs, mentorship programs and sheer time on the clock.

The time spent on training and knowledge sharing is well worth it. According to the Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report, inefficient knowledge-sharing costs large businesses $47 million every year.

Specifically, the report says, “U.S. knowledge workers waste 5.3 hours every week either waiting for vital information from their colleagues or working to re-create existing institutional knowledge. That wasted time translates into delayed projects, missed opportunities, frustration among employees, and significant impact on the bottom line.”

So, how can companies retain their institutional knowledge before replacing retiring employees? Here are some strategies that have proven to be successful:

Document Institutional Knowledge with Video

Companies might be tempted to create libraries full of institutional information. But, as Oliver Sturrock of Fluke Digital Systems writes in EHS Today, “Older workers generally don’t like writing instructions (and don’t always get them right). And many younger workers don’t care to pore over pages and pages of steps.”

Instead, he says, use video.

Videos don’t have to have high production quality, but should be brief and useful, Sturrock writes. He also suggests having retiring workers wear enterprise-connected smart glasses and recording their work. This way, institutional knowledge is not lost when an older worker retires. Instead, younger workers can go back to the video(s) and find their predecessors’ words and see the work done through their eyes.

Create Internal Mentorship Programs

Many companies are bridging the gap between younger employees and retiring employees by creating mentorship programs. These programs, such as the one underway at General Motors, seeks to pair younger workers in search of mentors with older workers with institutional knowledge. As GM’s Chris Oster tells Crain’s Detroit Business, “We want to foster leaders to be coaches, and mentoring is one of the best ways to do that. It’s really about encouraging both sides of that equation to make the connection.”

Share Institutional Knowledge Through Training Programs

GM’s mentorship program is run through a portal that pairs mentors and mentees. But that’s not the only way GM is training newer workers. GM also rotates new employees through different areas of the company so that they can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the company and learn about different areas of the business before settling into their careers. New employees who are exposed to every area of the business can absorb institutional knowledge by osmosis and choose a career path that most interests them.

When creating a training program, Peter Schroeder of Northpass, a provider of learning management systems, recommends creating online courses that can reach employees no matter where they are and including the perspective and institutional knowledge of retiring baby boomers.

“Remember that the goal is not simply to store institutional knowledge, but also to ensure that knowledge is successfully transferred to and retained by existing and future employees,” Schroeder says. “The best way to do this is to employ employee training methods that make your content accessible, comprehensible and captivating.”

Bring on New Employees Before Replacing Retiring Employees

Plan for some overlap between retiring employees and their replacements. This strategy gives new employees ample time to absorb institutional knowledge and retiring workers the peace of mind that their job is in capable hands.

As Becky Latka writes in GovLoop, “Hire the replacement months before the retiree-to-be leaves. That way the new person can learn right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.”

Replace Retiring Employees with AI

In some businesses, retiring employees could be replaced with technology. In manufacturing, robotic arms may take the place of human arms. Or safety alert systems could alert line managers to issues in real time.

“AI, machine learning and deep learning algorithms can identify if workers are compliant,” Matt Reaney, founder and CEO of the data science recruitment company Big Cloud, explains to SafeOpedia. Ways to accomplish that goal include “wearing the correct equipment like goggles, headwear, protective footwear and clothing, before dealing with hazards.”

AI, Reaney continues, also tracks “contamination risks, detecting spills or unsafe objects and alerting those responsible.”

If accidents do occur, he says,” AI systems can also alert line managers in real time to incidents that are happening. This will allow for better response and care for those involved in workplace accidents.”

In offices, layers of bureaucracy and paperwork are being replaced with software that will “streamline and modernize bureaucratic work,” Eliza Fawcett reports in The Hartford Courant.

“Across agencies,” Fawcett writes, Connecticut “is implementing new digital programs to increase efficiency and improve security, including upgrading networks to Microsoft 365, creating an online ‘one-stop-shop’ so that new businesses can more easily register and pay fees, and using artificial intelligence to sort through the first round of applicants for state positions.”

For those employed in occupational health and safety careers, the emergence of AI means a greater emphasis in training to prepare workers for the different and varied physical, mental and psychosocial risks that come with working with AI, according to Dr. Phoebe V. Moore in a report prepared for the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

“Indeed,” the report says, “one project run at the headquarters of IG Metall is reviewing workplace training curricula, and findings are demonstrating that training needs updating in the context of Industry 4.0 to prepare workers not just for physical risks, but also mental and psychosocial risks that digitalization at work introduces.”

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Industry-experienced safety professionals guide students through occupational safety courses, covering modern trends in employee engagement and the establishment of a safety culture in the workplace. For more information, contact EKU today.

Recommended Reading:

Safety Training for the Millennial Generation

Increasing Employee Engagement and Participation in Workplace Safety

Implementing a Return to Work Program


Inefficient Knowledge Sharing Costs Large Businesses $47 Million Per Year: Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report

Seven Tips to Retaining Retiring Worker Knowledge: EHSToday

As Baby Boomers Exit Workforce, Employers Don’t Want

Knowledge to Go With Them: Crain’s Detroit Business

4 Ways to Avoid Institutional Memory Loss When Key Employees Leave: Northpass

Passing the Torch – Transferring Institutional Knowledge: GovLoop

Straight From the Experts: How Will AI Fit Into Health and Safety in the Workplace?: SafeOpedia

With 15,000 State Employees Eligible for Retirement Soon, Connecticut Aims to Consolidate, Modernize and Even Use Artificial Intelligence to Fill Vacancies: Hartford Courant

Artificial Intelligence: Occupational Safety and Health and the Future of Work: EU-OSHA