41% of Employees Have Been Forced to Start Job from Scratch Due to Lack of Knowledge Transfer from Retiring Employees
Only Half of Boomers Have Shared Workplace Knowledge Needed for Successors to Perform Their Job
As a growing number of senior employees prepare to retire and exit the workforce, a recent survey from The Harris Poll commissioned by Express Employment Professionals found many Canadian companies are not taking adequate steps to ensure the knowledge and skills these employees possess are being passed on. As a result, these companies and the successor employees are having to start from scratch, hurting productivity and sometimes resulting in costly training which could have been avoided.
The vast majority (83%) of Canadian businesses surveyed believe it is a big loss when older employees retire without passing along their years of knowledge to younger employees. Two-thirds of Canadian employees (65%) say it is absolutely essential or very important for employees to share the knowledge needed to perform their job responsibilities with others.
In the workplace, Boomer employees are more likely than their younger counterparts to report feeling knowledgeable (52%), compared to Gen Z (43%), Millennials (44%) and Gen X (46%) employees. Additionally, younger employees view Boomers in the workplace as having valuable knowledge (61%), someone they can learn a lot from (48%), and as a role model to look up to (36%).
Yet, only half of Boomers (54%) say, in preparation for retirement, they have shared all or the majority of the knowledge needed for their successors to perform their job after they retire.
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Encouragingly though, this has increased significantly from 2018 (40%). Furthermore, around 3 in 5 (59%) believe their employer is taking the right steps to make sure they don’t experience a “brain drain” (i.e., when older employees retire without sharing knowledge of how to do their job with younger generations).
When the transfer of knowledge does not happen, employees can be left learning how to do a job on their own with around 2 in 5 Canadian employees (41%) report experiencing this firsthand.
The survey reflects what many Express experts, including Tash Damjanovic, an Express franchise owner in Toronto, Ontario, are seeing in their areas.
“Very few companies are taking a consistent and creative approach to addressing the issue of baby boomers leaving their organizations,” said Damjanovic. “Much more thought needs to be put into creating novel ways to keep them engaged, especially as they leave the workforce in large numbers, during the tightest labour market in the past half century.”
According to Terry Stewart, an Express franchise owner in Surrey, British Columbia, it’s important that retiring boomers share their knowledge before leaving because that knowledge cannot be easily learned or replaced with a new employee.
“Sharing of knowledge should be part of a company’s culture,” said Stewart. “Why reinvent the wheel if it has been done before. What worked and what didn’t needs to be shared, and if some things were tried before and didn’t work, the company needs to find out why before these employees leave.”
“Baby boomers are a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, not only in terms of leadership and technical skills, but also the organizational memory that you really cannot acquire by hiring a new employee,” said Damjanovic. “Anyone that has been with a company for many years will have insights around what has served the company well and can provide context around key corporate values and culture.”
Stewart says mentorship can be an effective way for retiring employees to share their knowledge and skills.
“Companies should ensure good long-term employees take on mentoring rolls in the organization,” said Stewart. “Communicating to the organization how important these people are and the value they add is important as baby boomers will take great pride in knowing that the company they helped build value and recognize their contribution and the ground work laid in the past.”
Damjanovic advises companies to not assume their relationship with retiring employees and the knowledge they possess must end as soon as they retire and to look at options like semi-retirement.
“Baby boomers are looking to stay engaged in novel ways but also on their own terms so companies need to think creatively how they can tap into the knowledge baby boomers have, beyond a standard 40-hour employee relationship,” said Damjanovic. “Continuing mentorship, not just of their immediate team but of individuals across the board, can help pass on some of that organizational memory and technical skills that are at risk of being lost.”
Every generation brings value to the workforce, and time is running out to enact knowledge succession plans for these senior employees, according to Express Employment International CEO Bill Stoller.
“While many practices and processes have changed over the years in the labour force, baby boomers have so much wisdom and life experience to pass on to benefit newest workers,” he added.
The survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals between Sept. 28 and Oct. 13, 2021, among 2,065 Canadian adults ages 18+ who are employed full-time, part-time, or self-employed. Data were weighted where necessary by age, by gender, education, region, household income, household size, and marital status to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. This sample of employees includes 445 Boomer employees (defined as employees ages 57-75) that were weighted individually.
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