In an early piece I talked about managing the Millennial Superstar. What about the aging Baby Boomer?
As the Baby Boomers age, there is a delicate dance, sometimes legal, sometimes psychological, that touches on the sensitivity of everyone involved. A senior member of your firm is thinking about her future. She's been in the organization for a good number of years, but she's thinking about moving on. What questions is she likely to ask as she makes this life-changing decision?
Some are eager to move on and can't wait to hit the links or take that course on 19th-century symphonies. Others will hesitate. No one is forcing them out the door, but there is a feeling that the time has come to transition, and what they would like to do is transition with a bit of security and a touch of grace. The last thing they need is HR or the finance director ramming the gates and exuberantly encouraging them to leave the moment the topic is raised.
Be aware that too often, the aging Boomer may be hesitant to discuss their situation because in the organization may have a culture of "once you're out, you're out" and there are the one or two people looking to make it into a zero-sum game. For people who work in organizations like this, raising the specter of retirement more or less means that you are out the door. Others work in organizations where retirement can be more gradual, and involve an engineered phasing-out, where the potential retiree can continue to feel the safety of being involved, but at the same time, are able to downsize their time at the office.
While employers have been retiring people out since the beginning of time, there needs to be a some more thoughtfulness on how this topic is approached, and granted, the situation may be different in different industries and different work environments.
In a paper that I wrote with my colleague Peter Bamberger, we found that whether one is "pulled" or "pushed" into retirement--that is, whether the decision to retire was voluntary or involuntary--is of great importance. Those who perceive that they are being "pushed" have a harder time making the transition. Those who feel that the decision is more or less voluntary are able to make a more gradual and constructive adjustment. The gradual adjustment is essential, especially for you as an entrepreneurial leader.
What do you want from the best of the Baby Boomers? You want to make sure that they are able to share their experience and accumulated knowledge, and have an opportunity to mentor others, rather than abruptly disassociate. Clearly, there are those whom you'd be happy to see leave, but smart leaders understand the importance of giving the best and brightest of the Boomers the space to transition.
Creating the capacity to transition with grace, partnering with them, and allowing them to continue their involvement is a win-win for everyone. In doing so, keep the following in mind:
1. Talk about transition into retirement, not simply retirement. The word "transition" gives the potential retiree a sense of value and the impression that this is a stepped process, rather than a quick push out the door.
2. Give them an opportunity to make suggestions as how they see the transition unfolding. A stepped process with gradual disengagement creates a sharing opportunity rather a conflict.
3. Respect their need to make the announcement on their terms and one their time. Don't go shouting it from the rooftop. They may want to disclose their plans to their circle before the official memo goes out.
4. Invite them back. After they retire, don't lock the door. Always welcome their involvement and participation.
Transitioning the best and the brightest of the Baby Boomers is not an easy process. If you want to retain their experience, let them transition with grace.