The Sticky Ceiling–boomers who won't go
I recently did a Breakfast Keynote for the Royal Roads University Alumni group in Vancouver to talk about getting ready for today’s workplace. The changes we’re dealing with (demographic and otherwise) have profound implications for employers and educators, so this was the perfect group to be talking to. My talk focused on inclusion as a workplace skill that is as essential as teamwork, technology, and ethics. The Q&A period was lively, and one question really caught my attention:
What about senior people who are old enough to retire but who can’t or won’t leave? How can we make them understand the value of inclusion?
The way I interpreted the question, I thought there was an implication that to be inclusive, older employees must retire and leave to make room for newcomers. But that isn’t the case. There are many reasons that baby boomers are delaying retirement, and it’s been going on for about 15 years (Huffington Post). In a recent conversation, Virginia Liu, Workforce Planning Officer at Canada Post listed 5 reasons for delayed retirement, some of which I hadn’t considered:
- Economic downturn creates uncertainty and lost savings
- Couples who marry later or who have second marriages and start having children later
- Adult kids (sometimes with families) returning home to live when they can’t make it on their own
- New immigrants to Canada find that past experience doesn’t count and it may take years to get employment
- People live longer these days and want to stay engaged in work they love
As employees age, there may be a perception that they have less to offer. But what older employees have is something critical but invisible–tacit knowledge. They have corporate memory; they know how things work around here; and they know who knows what. This kind of knowledge takes years to acquire and internalize, and it is very difficult to transfer.
One of the threats to business today is the rapid turnover of older workers and fast-rising, unseasoned young and culturally different employees, without a system for transferring this valuable tacit knowledge. Those who are not inclusive cannot effectively engage in that transfer.
So let’s not push out older employees quite so fast–and if you’re coaching a senior executive, remind them of how important inclusiveness is–it’s what makes the transfer of tacit knowledge possible. Inclusion means mutual recognition and valuing the strengths of others, engaging in an exchange of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and being mindful of a natural tendency to overlook and undervalue those who are different from us. Being inclusive is perhaps even more important for senior executive facing retirement, but for whatever reason choose to stay.