Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Happy Retirement?

Talking about 'Retirement' has become a bit of a no-no in certain HR circles, with many overly cautious around discussing options and some reluctant to broach the topic at all.

In the course of his eternal quest for further knowledge, my fellow Tiger and workplace wellbeing officionado Steve recently discovered a 2002 paper from The King's Fund named 'Great to be Grey'. The paper looks specifically at the problems presented by NHS workers leaving the service and the impact of lost skills and experience. 

The paper was of course issued prior to the scrapping of the default retirement age and some themes are key to the issues faced in the NHS ten years ago. I am unsure whether retirement still looms large on the NHS' current list of problems and threats, but reading it raised some key points around older staff moving on- and it did set us thinking:  

What cultural and commercial considerations must businesses give to the issue of retirement?

The paper identifies some leading causes of why older NHS workers decided to move on, including increased workload, physical wear and tear and long hours. It's clear that good training, occupational health support and flexible working could help address these specific concerns, but if you've done all you can to address objections, what should you think about if a key staff member decides to retire anyway?

Where's my map?

New and existing employees often look to senior staff for guidance and support, and to share their experience. We should consider the damage that can be done by losing mentors in the workplace- if people opt out early, we can lose a wealth of talent and knowledge, meaning that the next generation risk missing out.

Can we counter this with a commitment to lifelong learning and CPD alone? Or is mentoring a more holistic method- and one we should value more than we currently do?

It's not enough

We should realise too that often the financial reward of staying in a role is not enough if the conditions and culture are wrong.

Offering flexible working, more diverse duties, continuing training and creating chances to add to the mix by sharing experience and knowledge can help older workers feel valued and appreciated. All employees like to feel their role and opinion counts, so don't dismiss the contribution older staff have to make.

Look at the culture in your business: perhaps it's not just your older employees who are feeling a little disillusioned or confused.

Letting go

Understand that there are times when an indvidual just wants to move on. They may have a plan to be a full-time  retiree, tending the garden and making jam- or are looking forward to going parascending and llama trekking in South America.

Never forget that they have family commitments too. 

They may wish to enjoy more time with their families, who may have been patiently waiting for time with them for many years. They may have caring obligations; I recently met a lady who was about to retire, and when I flippantly asked "Are you looking forward to being a lady of leisure?" she told me the tale of how at 60-something, she was just looking forward to being able to spend a decent amount of time with her 80-something mum who has dementia. Her employer hadn't even begun to train anyone else into her role and had put a lot of pressure on her to stay, leaving her feeling guilty and with an unfair sense of responsibility for the problems the business faced on top of the emotions and hard work of her caring role. It left her with a negative impression of her final months in a job she had loved, and she doesn't answer the phone gladly when the boss calls to get her to fix something.

If they say they want to retire, by all means ask if they are sure, and determine their reasons. Talk it through and see if you can adapt if you really wish to retain their skills- but if they are set on it, make a succession plan, shake their hand, throw them a party and bid them au revoir.

Just remember to keep in touch. Work has been a huge part of their everyday life, and no matter how much they may love not setting that alarm clock every day, they WILL miss it. 

So remeber they exist and they'll do the same: they won't mind you calling up to ask a question or spending a little time helping a former colleague- and you'd be amazed how many retirees still act as unofficial salespeople for their former employers.

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