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Three ways to make the most of your older workers

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14th Jan 2013
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Times are changing and, henceforth, employers will need to be smarter.

This is because a potentially explosive mixture of issues is starting to bubble under.   Older workers now comprise a much bigger cohort than those coming up behind them. The imminent retirement of the Baby Boomer generation has been known about for years as have the potential problems that it is likely to cause.   But the Default Retirement Age has now also gone, which means that employees can stay on at work for as long as they choose to despite the workforce planning challenges that such an approach generates. So how are employers likely to respond to these dynamics?   Traditionally, many have looked to outplacement services after the decision has been taken to get rid of an individual or group of employees. The individual or group are handed over to a third party, with their employer effectively abdicating responsibility for them.   But despite the indignity of such an approach, it has in the past worked for both employers and workers, who are provided with assistance in moving into a new role.   As the work landscape changes, however, there is a growing need for employers to treat individuals who are coming towards the end of their working life with a bit more respect, not least because their knowledge and experience still has huge value.   This means finding alternative approaches to ensure that employers can get the most from their older workers, while older workers themselves are in a position to enjoy their working life without having to worry too much about job insecurity.   So how can you best go about achieving this balance? Here are three suggestions:   1. Evaluate whether your performance management systems are fit-for-purpose   Many employers are talking about using performance management as the key means of managing their older workers, but how effective are your processes really? For example, are they more well-known than well liked?   Do you struggle to get appraisals finished on time – or even done at all? Is it difficult to make consistent judgements about pay increases, bonuses, promotions and the like based on these appraisals? And finally, how much has your performance management system changed over recent years – and is it automated yet?   2. Accommodate older workers’ changing requirements   It is important to create enough space for individuals to think about what they can and can’t do in a work context, and for their employer to both reciprocate and accommodate their needs. Options here may include part-time and flexible working as well as consultancy.   3. Ensure that knowledge transfer takes place   Mature workers have a reservoir of invaluable knowledge and experience so, if you can maintain a good relationship with them, you will be in a better position to retain it and ensure that it is transferred effectively to a younger member of staff in order to ensure that it isn’t lost.   But employers need to do more than simply strip older workers of their knowledge, which could make them feel exposed, vulnerable and useless. The process must be handled with tact and the individual with respect.   It must also be made clear that the company values knowledge in whatever its form as a means of protecting the brand, the organisation and the people who work there.   Treating employees with respect rather than as a commodity will pay huge dividends. By engaging with older staff in a more open and transparent fashion, you have a chance to work together for the mutual good and leave a good taste in everyone’s mouth as they approach the end of their working life.     Simon North is co-founder of career consultancy, Position Ignition.

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