How to Motivate Pensioned Employees

By Katie Navarra February 12, 2020
bored worker at his desk

​Retirement is a well-deserved achievement after a lifetime of work. It offers freedom from a conscripted schedule and the chance to volunteer, enjoy hobbies or spend time with family. Pensions can provide financial security, and employees typically "vest" or become eligible for them after reaching certain milestones. Eligibility may be achieved at a certain age, after a number of years of service or a combination of the two. The more an employee works beyond the minimum eligibility requirement, the more pension he or she may receive.

Unfortunately, those "golden handcuffs" can become the sole reason an employee remains in a job. Employees grow stagnant and begin to focus on their last day, which could be years away. Soon it becomes evident they are on the job only to receive their pension.

"Little by little, some tenured employees think they become exempt" from work expectations, said Rose Miller, president of Pinnacle Human Resources, LLC, an Albany, N.Y.-based consulting firm. "They feel like they've earned [a respite] and are entitled after knocking themselves out for 15 years."

These employees can become less productive, miss deadlines and turn in lower-quality work. Such an attitude of entitlement can taint an entire workplace environment.

"When you ignore it, a monster is created," Miller said. "Not doing anything about those behaviors should not be allowed."

Tenured employees hold institutional knowledge and experience that can benefit entire organization. When they're distracted by a retirement date on the calendar, the entire organization loses out. Re-energize your pensioned employees with these strategies.

Create Bridge Roles and Empower Decision Making

 Leverage the expertise of long-term employees by creating opportunities for them to share their accumulated knowledge. New roles could include a mix of their current job duties and additional responsibilities, such as mentoring incoming employees.

"It's a way for an employee to transition into retirement, and it gives them a chance to lead others," Miller said.

Additionally, employees may be willing to make sacrifices for an employer they feel is invested in them. Companies can demonstrate this type of investment by empowering employees to make decisions, says Chuck Blakeman, founder of the Crankset Group and author of the forthcoming book, Rehumanizing the Workplace (By Giving Everybody Their Brain Back).

"When you tell people what they have to do, it makes them unhappy," Blakeman said. "When you take decision making away from someone, it dehumanizes them and they can't recover from that."

Restructure How Work Is Perceived

The Industrial Age significantly changed the way workers were compensated. Before the advent of the assembly line, people made products from scratch and pay was based on both quantity and quality. Shift work introduced a concept that compensation is based on the amount of time someone works, rather than on the amount they produce, and pensions perpetuate that.

"Pensions put in people's heads that work is time-based," Blakeman said. "Organizations have to get back to a capitalist model that allows people to feel like they are in control of their own destiny. Before factories [were built], a shoemaker who made 10 good pairs of shoes was paid more than their neighbor who only made five."

According to the business concept known as Pearson's Law, "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates." But changing from a time-based to a performance-based outlook can be challenging.

One way to make this shift, according to Miller, is to review and rewrite job descriptions by converting outcomes to tasks. But she cautions against a one-size-fits-all approach. Be sure to devise evaluation measures that meet each demographic's needs and motivators.

"The oldest members of the workforce make up 41 percent, and the Millennial group is almost as large," Miller said. "They are motivated differently, and taking a cookie-cutter approach is a mistake."

Evaluate Your Benefits and Be Adaptable

Many organizations excel at modifying their business model to respond to changing customer demands. However, managers forget that internal structures require the same attention and adaptability. The benefits that incentivize members of the Baby Boomer generation, who are retiring or are near retirement, are different than those of midcareer employees who may still have a decade or more of service left before retirement.

Root Out Disengagement

A disengaged employee can spread dissatisfaction throughout the workplace. If the suggested changes above don't work, it may be time for the employee to move on. The employer can help the worker find a new place to land.

"This is more covert, but it works well," Miller said. "Call a staffing company and tell them what you think the employee is good at and then have that person head-hunted."

However, she cautions that when an organization reaches a point where multiple employees can't wait to retire, there's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed.

"That's a big red flag to the HR person because the issues go beyond retirement and the countdown clock," Miller said.

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.


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