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5 Insights for Making the Most of Your Baby Boomer Employees

As the labor market tightens, it’s natural for business chiefs to focus on attracting and keeping Generation Y, which at once has become both the most numerous population of working Americans and the most influential in many ways. But they also should strive to manage effectively their oldest generation, boomers, who comprised the previous largest generation and whose skills, preferences, strengths and weaknesses largely have shaped the modern economy.

“As the economy continues to improve and access to capital is more available, the driving strategy won’t be about accessing funding, but about accessing talent,” says Bram Lowsky, group executive vice president of Right Management, a division of ManpowerGroup.

He advises CEOs to keep boomers top of mind as they cope with a talent shortage that is growing more acute with the improving U.S. economy. Here are 4 of Lowsky’s insights to prepare for the aging out of the older workforce, and for keeping those who want to stay energized and excited about their jobs.

“Boomers will continue to be of value, but companies should think differently about how to best utilize their skills and their time.”

1. Prepare for their disappearance. As they reach retirement age by the millions these days, boomers are disappearing quickly from the workforce. Yet fewer than one-third of companies have made any changes or planned things any differently because of the ongoing and pending retirements of their boomer cohort, Lowsky said. “Companies need to do that as a starting point, just to understand the impact,” he said.

2. Adjust to their preferences. Many fewer boomers than members of the previous generation are interested in just retiring outright by age 65 and never working again; many of them can’t afford to do that anyway. So a significant amount of them either plan to continue on full-time or are open to part-time work, consulting roles, flex time and other changes “that will support their interest and desire to stay in the organization,” Lowsky said. “They may not want to work full-time at the same pace as before, but they definitely want to continue to work.”

3. Tap into their mentorship potential. Boomers can be harnessed to help prepare the next generation of workers in formal and informal mentorship programs that are not utilized often enough. “It’s good for business when they can pass along their knowledge and their client relationships, in terms of transition,” Lowsky said. “It is also very good for driving worker engagement at all levels. Boomers get to give back, and there’s some legacy around that; and those at the next level down get a mentor relationship with someone who’s senior and more experienced.”

4. Don’t write off their relationship with new technologies. The fluency of younger generations with digital technologies also can create the opportunity for “reverse mentoring” of boomers by their younger co-workers. “Maybe boomers don’t need to know every single piece of new technology,” Lowsky allowed, “but certainly they need to know the ones that are critical to your business.”

5. Consider their role as keeper of IP. Boeing estimates that about half of its top engineers and mechanics are eligible to retire within the next five years, threatening to take a mammoth load of crucial intellectual property with them. They won’t be stealing it, but it will, for all intents and purposes, be in their heads. “If you’re planning to grow from within, you’ve got to be able to develop people and retain enough talent to replace all of these [boomers] and what they know,” Lowsky said.

Managing talent will be one of the crucial challenges for CEOs going forward. They shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of their oldest workers in solving that challenge.


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