As retirement approaches, many older employees may feel that their knowledge and insights are not valued by younger generations. However, in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, it is crucial to embrace the transfer knowledge across generations to avoid losing valuable organizational experience
“I’m 67 and I’m going to retire soon. I have so much to teach, but I don’t think anyone wants to learn from me.”
Last month I was doing a webinar for over 300 people. The moderator encouraged the audience to use the chat function, and the comments and questions were flying by throughout the session. I’m usually sharing slides so I don’t always see all the conversations, but on this day I happened to stop sharing in time to see the above quote pop up in the window.
I stopped the presentation.
He brought up an important point: are we interested in learning from those older than us, or is generational tension standing in our way?
What Will They Take When They Leave?
If all of our Baby Boomer employees retired tomorrow, does anyone know what they know? Have they/ will they transfer their knowledge across generations, or will they leave a big gap in our organizational knowledge & wisdom when they go? Chances are, most of our Boomers haven’t passed down their experience or insights to those who will succeed them. According to a recent survey shared by PBS,
- 57 percent of boomers have shared half or less of the knowledge needed to perform their job responsibilities to a younger generation with those who will assume them after they retire
- 21 percent have shared none of their knowledge
- Only 18 percent have shared all of their knowledge
As we wrote in Gentelligence:
“Baby Boomers are now eligible to retire at a rate of ten thousand employees per day. This means vast
amounts of organizational experience stands to be lost if leaders do not encourage the passing down and transfer of certain kinds of vital
knowledge. Once it is gone, it cannot be replaced. Recognizing the need for generationally positive atmospheres in the workplace is also
needed for younger workers to be willing and interested in transferring their unique knowledge, as well as for them to be open to learning
what older generations have to teach.”
41 Million Strong: (That’s Why They’re Called The Baby Boomers).
As of 2022, one in four employees were members of the Baby Boomer generation. That’s 41 million people, ranging from 59 to 77 years old this year still very capable of transferring knowledge across generations. By 2031, every Baby Boomer will be age 66, eligible for full retirement (Fun fact: Age 66 is the full retirement age for most Baby Boomers, other than the very youngest. According to the SSA.gov: “the full retirement age is 66 if you were born from 1943 to 1954. The full retirement age increases gradually if you were born from 1955 to 1960 until it reaches 67. For anyone born 1960 or later, full retirement benefits are payable at age 67”).
That means at any moment, significant parts of your workforce might choose to retire, most likely without sharing all the insights they’ve spent the last four to five decades accumulating.
Many Boomers aren’t interested in retiring at 66 or for many years after, as people are both living longer and needing to financially remain in the workplace longer than prior generations. This means that thankfully, we might still have time to do better when it comes to transferring knowledge from many employees in this generation.
That brings us back to where we started. That being the 67-year-old man dropping his comment in the chat: “But no one is interested in learning from me.”
We can change that with a little Gentelligence. When I stopped the presentation to address that comment, I asked the gentleman how often he shows interest in learning from those younger than he is. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s really a core tenant of any effective leadership: to get respect, you must give respect. To teach someone else, you must also be willing to learn from them.
Collaboration Over Competition.
And for today’s younger generations, the need for a voice is stronger than ever before.
Rapid change means that younger generations do possess unique expertise and different perspectives than older ones. However, it is often overlooked or discounted.
It’s hard to let go of the notion that those that have been at the organization the longest always know best.
It’s even harder to embrace that unique knowledge from one generation that doesn’t threaten the unique knowledge and wisdom of another. But Gentelligence tells us that generations need to stop viewing themselves in competition, and instead embrace mutual learning. Younger generations having valuable input doesn’t threaten the importance of what older generations know or vice versa. This will foster the ability to transfer knowledge across generations.
No One Wants a Lecture.
I hear a common theme from younger employees. The lessons being passed down to them from their older colleagues tend to sound like a lecture. Oftentimes, one that lacks understanding of the context and environment that young people are having to navigate today.
At a recent Gentelligence workshop, a participant shared that the person who had been assigned as his mentor seemed well-intentioned. However, the advice he was giving lacked relevance to the challenges the participant was experiencing on a daily basis.
He expressed frustration that the “wisdom” being passed on was one-way. His mentor didn’t seem interested in whether his advice resonated. Nor did he show interest in how to adapt it to the way the world of work had evolved and changed. As a result, he wasn’t interested in listening to that guidance.
You Go First.
I had some advice for that gentleman. It was to be proactive in seeking the perspectives of his younger colleagues. What I mean by that is to first ask what they thought and what they believed about the topic they are hoping to teach others about. That alone is valuable, as I have done it a hundred times myself with my students (age 18-22). I always learn something new and interesting.
For example, some wisdom and advice about building a meaningful career is timeless.
But other pieces of insight may no longer work so well in a post-pandemic world of work.
Asking your younger colleagues what their biggest challenges are in building their career, or what is harder than they anticipated can be a great segway into sharing valuable advice. This can also reveal that some strategies that worked for you might not work so well for someone today. My research on this topic shows that younger generations don’t simply want information. They have more of that than they can process.
They want to understand how that information is relevant to them today. Or how to use it in service of what is most important to them personally.
The simple act of reaching out and first asking those younger for their input will pay great returns. Once you’ve asked someone to share what they know, they are much more interested in learning what you know. And that is how you transfer knowledge across generations.