Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

How to Counter the Baby Boomer Brain Drain

A business woman walking down the street holding a briefcase.

​As employers grapple with a record number of employees quitting their jobs, many also are contending with an increase in the departure of workers ages 55 and older. In fact, the number of employees in that age group who have left their jobs has grown by 3.5 million over the past two years, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center.

While there was a definite uptick in retirements during the pandemic, many of these workers are leaving for new jobs, not the rocking chair. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a rise in labor force participation among older adults from 2020 to 2030, with nearly 40 percent of adults ages 65 to 69 being in the labor force by 2030, up from 33 percent in 2020.

Experts say there are several reasons why retirements are being delayed and older workers are switching jobs. Here are three: 

  • More employers are creating scheduling flexibility and remote opportunities, especially for workers ages 55 and older.
  • Changing financial circumstances are prompting more older employees to remain in the workforce.
  • These workers want to share their knowledge and experience, remain productive, and contribute to their organizations beyond the traditional retirement age.

"Historical norms have changed," said Erin Dertouzos, chief people officer at StrongDM, an IT services company in New York City. "You can't always count on historical data to make business decisions. Many people either can't or don't want to retire at [age] 65."

However, even those who delay or postpone retirement are aware their remaining time in the workforce is finite. Many are seeking new jobs that better reflect their skills, experience and workplace requirements.

Employers that want to retain these workers need to develop transition strategies that enable older workers to remain engaged and productive, as well as to share the knowledge they have gained over the course of their careers.

"Organizations facing excessive talent losses need to address several pressing questions," said David DeLong, author of Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce (Oxford University Press, 2004). These questions include the following:

  • How can they encourage valuable Baby Boomer employees to postpone retirement or departure?
  • How can they transfer their knowledge, skills and experience to younger, less experienced employees?
  • How can they develop employees across all age groups?

"First and foremost, it's important to take an inventory of your people, including skill levels, seniority, tenure and career mapping," said Gianna Driver, CHRO at Exabeam, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company. "This data gives a good sense of the current workforce, which can be used to create individual development plans."

In addition, it's critical to determine what your older workers want moving forward. "It doesn't have to be all or nothing. You need an armada of solutions to address this complex challenge," added Athena Karp, founder and CEO of HiredScore, an AI-recruiting company in New York City. "If you want some employees to stay longer, find out what's most important to them and create strategies to help them achieve their goals."

Be Proactive About Documentation

"Organizations need a strategy to sustain knowledge bases in light of retirements, turnover and the increasing complexity of jobs," DeLong said. And it's important to be proactive in addressing the challenge of knowledge transfer. "If you wait until the last minute, you have fewer options," Karp said.

Dertouzos views these impending retirements as an opportunity for companies to pause and consider the most effective ways to preserve the institutional knowledge that is often taken for granted.

"The more you can document without paralyzing the workflow, the better it is for the company. It helps others learn from your experience even when you aren't available," she said.

StrongDM recently hired a process analyst whose primary responsibility is to work with different teams to document the company's philosophy and operations, including people processes, customer journeys and user journeys. The collected information is housed on the company's Intranet where other employers can access it easily.

While this proactive approach to documentation helps prepare the company for the retirement of its older employees, Dertouzos has found it also helps with onboarding new employees, self-directed learning and the challenges of turnover.

"It's an opportunity to button up something that hasn't been clearly documented or articulated," she said.

Sharing Tacit Knowledge

Rosina Racioppi, founder and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, a New York City firm dedicated to mentoring high profile women, advises companies to give Baby Boomer workers new assignments to reignite their desire to stay on the job.

"Managers should focus on opening them up to new challenges, which can serve to recognize their contributions to the company while simultaneously making the job feel new and exciting all over again," she said.

Concurrently, it's important to create an effective strategy for the transfer of "tacit knowledge" from older to younger workers. Tacit knowledge is a form of practical intelligence that is built through personal and professional experience over the course of a lifetime. Because tacit knowledge is based on subjective experience unique to the individual and often difficult to articulate, it's best shared through conversation, observation and collaboration with others.

"Tacit knowledge is something that can't be written down or codified. Observation is key," said Heather McGowan, a Boston-area author who wrote The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce (Wiley, 2023).

She shared the example of a 70-year-old president of a New York-based foundation who had a unique and well-honed talent for conflict resolution. He was concerned that no one else in the organization had this particular set of "people skills," and although it was difficult for him to explain his approach, he found that his small team of directors and managers benefited greatly from observing him resolve conflicts between employees.

The president began routinely inviting colleagues to sit in on those conversations and then discuss what they observed. After watching him in action several times, they were able to internalize his attitude and techniques, and adapt it to their own style and for their own purposes.

"It was instructive for me too," the president acknowledged. "I learned something about myself that I hadn't really understood before. I think it made me a better leader and mentor."

McGowan said it's important to build these kinds of redundancies into the system so when people retire or leave, there are others in the organization who can step in. "No one should hold all the cards," she said.

Karp recommends what she calls "the project solution" as an effective way to share tacit knowledge. She found that pairing less experienced employees with more experienced people and allowing them to work side by side on a project for three to six months provides a gradual exposure to complex knowledge that makes learning more effective and sustainable.

Role sharing is another viable alternative. When two people from different generations share one role, they have numerous opportunities to learn from each other, McGowan said.

Passing the Torch

The impending exodus of so many experienced Baby Boomers from the workforce is an opportunity for leaders to rethink their role, said McGowan. "It's really a succession planning issue. The focus needs to be on developing people rather than performance. The bench you leave tomorrow is more important than how you perform today," she said.

Mentoring and knowledge sharing is key to developing the next generation of leaders, said Driver, who launched a pilot program at Exabeam in 2021 called GROW in which older, more experienced leaders mentor and share their knowledge with a select group of employees who have been identified as "high potential, high performance."

In this multi-month program, an instructor meets virtually every few weeks with a cohort of 10 to 12 members. The curriculum, which was developed by the director of learning and development, uses career ladders to determine what participants need to learn and progress with the company. Then the content is delivered by senior-level employees who have the skills, knowledge and passion to facilitate and lead this process.

Exabeam uses the program as a retention tool for both the faculty and participants. Baby Boomer employees who are asked to facilitate usually feel honored to be asked because it signals a respect and appreciation for their knowledge and experience, and makes them feel valued and relevant, said Driver, who added that HR can be instrumental in creating an inclusive, learning-rich environment that celebrates mentoring, knowledge sharing and collaboration.

"People from different generations can learn a lot from each other," she said. 

Arlene S. Hirsch is a career counselor and author based in Chicago.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.