If the headline of this post sounds ominous, it is meant to be just that. It's a sad fact that American business in general is failing at the transfer of knowledge from its departing employees. Writing for Next Avenue, Richard Eisenberg puts the situation into perspective: "4 million boomers a year leave the workforce and boomers comprise 31 percent of workers; 56 percent of retiring boomers are in leadership positions. That’s a lot of knowledge to go pfffft."
A survey of workers between the ages of 54 and 72, conducted by The Harris Poll for recruiting firm Express Employment Professionals, tells a dreary story. The majority of boomer workers (57 percent) "say they have shared half or less of the knowledge needed to perform their job responsibilities with those who will assume those responsibilities after they retire," even though 81 percent of boomer workers "are overwhelmingly willing to mentor the next generation." In addition, "only 44 percent say their company has an adequate successor in place for when they retire, and 30 percent feel their companies may lose key client relationships if they retire." While employers might greatly benefit from retaining boomer workers on a part-time basis, "only 20 percent of working boomers say their employer offers 'semi-retirement' options."
Bill Stoller, CEO of Express Employment Professionals, told Richard Eisenberg, “Such a poor transfer of knowledge was surprising to us. You’ve got to have a process in place to have someone follow in the footsteps of someone retiring. It doesn’t appear companies are thinking about that.” Paul Rupert, founder of Respectful Exits, added, “What is described as the systematic failure of companies to mine their pre-retirees for critical knowledge and intellectual property is part of a general failure to appreciate the value of who and what is walking out the door of today’s knowledge-based employers.”
Results from another survey conducted by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies indicated that "only 4 percent of retirees said their employers encouraged employees to participate in succession planning, training and mentoring," according to Eisenberg.
Many American companies are literally throwing out valuable knowledge when boomer employees retire. In fairness, not all businesses are so short-sighted; a handful of them have knowledge transfer programs of some sort, such as phased retirement or mentoring. Still, the vast majority of firms simply don't have a mechanism for retiring employees to impart what they know to the employees who replace them.
Why? Is this part of the age discrimination that we all know impacts boomers? Would employers just like to have boomers exit as quickly and quietly as possible? Are they really so obtuse as to not realize that retiring boomers have a wealth of knowledge that would help facilitate a transition to a successor?
Whatever the reasons, it really makes no sense to discard intellectual capital that a company invested in over many years.