The Baby Boomer Exodus — a survival guide

A generation that grew up riding bikes without helmets and drinking water from garden hoses has somehow survived the recklessness of their youth to reach retirement age.

For years employers have been warned about the vacuum of experience and talent that would occur when the 76 million baby boomers born in the post-World War II years (1945 to 1964) began to retire, but when the recession delayed many boomers’ departures, business owners got a reprieve.

Now, however, the exodus is upon us and boomers are retiring in droves. In fact, it’s been reported as many as 11,000 baby boomers retire every day. While that has many concerned about the survivability of social security, it leaves the rest of us to contemplate how we survive boomers’ exit from the workplace.

With younger baby boomers just reaching their mid-50s, it’s not too late to strategize. How can companies capture boomers’ institutional knowledge and depth of experience? And, just as importantly, how can they prepare the next generation for the challenges of management?

  • Today one-in-three American workers are millennials. In fact, millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, recently surpassed boomers and Gen Xers to make up the largest percentage of the U.S. labor force. Needless to say, identifying and developing talent within this generation will be critical as boomers retire. That starts with hiring the right candidate — someone who is both capable of meeting the immediate demands of the job and also possesses the mental aptitude to assume a leadership role down the road. Objectively assessing candidates’ skills, offering training programs, conducting regular performance evaluations and providing workplace perks and benefits that match a new set of needs and values can help companies recruit and develop millennials who will grow to be productive contributors to the organization.
  • Bridge the generation gap by building multi-generational project teams. As a group that values connection and collaboration, millennials should appreciate the opportunity to learn from their predecessors. And by assigning boomers the role of “coach,” organizations can acknowledge their successes and even re-energize their careers at a time when motivation may be waning. Bridging generations will also make boomers uniquely qualified to identify those most capable of succeeding them.
  • Smart business owners would never leave an unlocked chest of cash in the lobby where anyone could walk off with it, so why would they let the treasure trove of knowledge held by boomers walk out the door? A knowledge management system prevents the potential for brain drain by allowing companies to aggregate the collective knowledge of employees and store it in a way that is accessible and shareable.

Younger generations offer tremendous technological skills and introduce new ways of thinking to the workforce, but even the brightest batch of up-and-comers cannot soon match the know-how amassed by baby boomers over the past 50 years. Business owners are doing their companies a disservice if they neglect to capture boomers’ institutional knowledge, leadership experience, and sheer intellectual capital before they ride off into retirement, helmets or not.

John Allen is president and COO, G&A Partners.