Baby Boomers, who were once the largest generational cohort in the workforce, now represent a shrinking but still potentially valuable talent pool. As the youngest Boomers turn 60, forward-thinking organizations are looking for effective ways to leverage the skills and experience of their remaining Boomer talent.
In two separate surveys of workers and hiring managers conducted by Reed Talent Solutions, a London-based workplace solutions company, internal mobility was identified as an effective way to retain, engage and develop older employees.
"Internal mobility is right at the forefront of finding solutions to the questions and opportunities of an aging workforce," said Reed Talent Solutions' managing director Lee Gudgeon. "There are huge benefits for companies with well-developed internal mobility policies with older workers more likely to stay longer, learn new skills, and remain motivated and at the top of their game."
Examples of internal mobility, which is defined as "the movement of employees to new career and development opportunities within the same organization," include:
- Lateral and vertical job changes.
- Mentoring, coaching and training opportunities.
- Job rotations and stretch assignments.
- Interdepartmental and intradepartmental projects and collaborations.
- Flexible work arrangements.
Know Your People
"To capitalize on the talents and experience of older employees, leaders need to understand who these workers are, what motivates them, and the opportunities they present," said Steve Hatfield, a global future of work leader at Deloitte Consulting in New York City.
"People at different life stages work for different reasons. A lot of Baby Boomers are really interested in making an impact. Part of what they have to offer is their vast knowledge and experience," said Gianna Driver, CHRO at Exabeam, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company.
Driver recommends documenting all employees' skill levels, seniority and tenure and using that data to generate individual development plans (IDPs).
"IDPs provide information about what the employee is good at, and what they want to learn and do. HR business partners then use the information to help them gain that experience through training and projects," Driver said.
Information garnered from multiple IDPs led Exabeam to create GROW—a formal mentoring program that allows more-senior employees to share their knowledge and experience with less-senior colleagues.
The leaders of the GROW program are chosen by the senior leadership team (including HR) for their "human skills," Driver said. "Although this is not limited to Baby Boomers, it often turns out that the older, more experienced people have more wisdom in this regard."
Organizations can also use surveys and other data collection tools to gain a more nuanced understanding of employees who are approaching or have reached retirement age.
"Organizations have access to more and more data sets about employee life cycles and needs," Hatfield said. "It is incumbent on them to take advantage of that data to create more targeted offerings."
At AdventHealth, a nonprofit health care system that operates facilities in nine states, the average age for nurses is 48 to 50 years old—with many nurses being over 60. To address the needs of this employee population, AdventHealth implemented several internal mobility policies and programs, according to Cathy Henesey, SHRM-SCP, the organization's vice president of talent acquisition in Orlando, Fla.
This includes shorter schedules for nurses who can no longer work a typical 12-hour shift, two new career tracks in telehealth and case management, and one-year temporary training assignments to facilitate the rollout of their new information management system.
"At the end of the day, it's about retention," Henesey said. "If we want people to stay, we have to give them a lot of flexible work options."
Mentoring and Other Knowledge-Sharing Strategies
"Organizations need to be strategic about how [they] leverage the wealth of knowledge and experience of retirement-age employees," said Robin Erickson, vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, a New York City-based research organization.
At Model N, a cloud-based revenue management solutions company headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., older employees are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience through both formal and informal mentoring.
To facilitate that process, the company rolled out a three-month Model N Certified Mentoring program this summer to teach effective mentoring skills.
"We expect that this program will be of particular interest to Boomers who have a lot of experience and who are well situated in the company," said Sharon Stolt, vice president of global learning and people experience. In addition to this formal mentoring process, casual mentoring is also encouraged.
Mentoring and knowledge-sharing arrangements are often a central feature of many phased retirement programs. At NASA, for example, phased retirement is a tool designed to assist the agency with succession planning, maintaining essential skills and competencies, and facilitating mentoring and knowledge transfer.
It does this by providing an opportunity for retirement-eligible employees to work half time for up to two years and earn partial retirement benefits before transitioning to full retirement. At least 20 percent of the phased retiree's work hours must consist of mentoring and knowledge-sharing activities, including direct mentoring of successors or other staff, developing and/or presenting training, and developing policies and operating processes.
Reverse mentoring programs are another effective way for employees to share knowledge with each other. At Sachse Construction, a Detroit-area construction management and general contracting firm, a reverse mentoring program has fostered collaboration between senior-level Baby Boomer employees and junior-level Millennial employees. This has helped Boomer leaders update their digital skills and provided Millennial employees with valuable leadership and mentoring experience.
"We started the program so that employees from different generations can learn from each other," said CEO Todd Sachse. But it has gone a long way toward creating a more inclusive multi-generational workforce. To the company's delight, many of these mentoring pairs have forged enduring, long-term working relationships that extend well beyond the formal mentoring program.
A 2023 Boomer Engagement survey conducted by Gallup found that development is an important area of opportunity for keeping Boomers on the job.
At Model N, all development planning is competency based.
"We use the 70/20/10 learning model as a framework for our internal mobility strategy," Stolt said. The model holds that hands-on experience is the most beneficial for employees and makes up 70 percent of the training. Twenty percent is learning through a variety of activities like social learning, coaching, mentoring or collaborative learning. Formal training and education comprise the final 10 percent.
Examples of hands-on experience include temporary job rotations, stretch assignments, project-based work and interdepartmental collaboration.
At Cochlear, a global medical device company headquartered in the Denver area, employees are encouraged to apply for temporary (three- to six-month assignments called "secondments") in other departments or offices that need additional help.
"We have found that overseas assignments, in particular, are a good way to leverage the experience and knowledge of our late-career employees and for the employees to have an opportunity to do something different," said Haley Burrow, Cochlear's manager of talent acquisition, Americas.
"A lot of companies write late-career employees off as being too old because they think they won't be able to keep up," Burrow said. "We have found the opposite to be true. When you give them an opportunity to shine, there are a lot of things that we can learn from their perspective."
Exabeam also encourages its Boomer employees to take on stretch assignments as a way to gain new skills, experiences and perspective. Driver cites an example of a Boomer employee in an engineering role with a background in technology. When the employee expressed an interest in deepening their knowledge of artificial intelligence and machine learning, HR was able to find them a project to work on that would accomplish that goal.
"This engineer defied the stereotype that Boomers are out of step and uncomfortable with technology," Driver noted.
Flexible Work Arrangements
"Flexibility is a high priority for many older workers," The Conference Board's Erickson said. "Organizations that want to retain these employees need to be smart about when and where they ask them to work."
The "Talent is Ageless" program at CVS Health focuses on helping mature workers remain in the workplace with simple modifications, such as alternative work arrangements. This allows them to take advantage of telecommuting, flextime, job sharing and compressed workweeks.
The company also has an innovative "snowbird" program that encourages older employees in cold climates to spend the winter working in stores in warmer locations, in order to help the company retain mature workers and provide much-needed additional seasonal help.
The Work to Retirement program at Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wis., offers flexible schedules and part-time work as part of its phased retirement program. Similarly, Scripps Health in San Diego allows retiring employees to work part-time schedules while maintaining eligibility for health insurance and other benefits.
HR professionals can play an integral role in developing effective internal mobility strategies that engage and retain valued older employees. By taking the initiative to help create a supportive culture, understanding employee demographics and competencies as well as the needs of the business, and building an effective process to connect workers to a variety of internal opportunities, HR professionals can do their part to ensure that their valued Boomer employees are happy and productively engaged.
Arlene S. Hirsch is a career counselor and author in Chicago.