Solution Saturday: Retirement Age Employees Are Coasting
Hello Mr. Rockwell,
I’m trying to find the best way to ask this. How can I help my retirement age members retire or do more than coast. I see them as founts of knowledge ripe for mentoring, however all they’re doing is accomplishing the bare minimums to “meet” standards. There’s no initiative.
Any suggestions or “Saturday Solutions” would be greatly appreciated.
OK, enough with “Mr. Rockwell.” Thanks for the courtesy, but I’ll stick with Dan. I still see myself as a kid. I suppose that means I have a perception problem. It would be nice if you fed my delusion.
The above paragraph indicates that elders can be picky, even reactive. Slap your hand over your mouth if you feel any words coming out that indicate you want people to retire before they’re ready. (Yes, expect everyone to meet or exceed performance expectations.)
The exception to pushing people out is offering special financial incentive, something like a golden parachute. Anything other than incentives will be a complete disaster. It will appear that you are forcing people out. In reality, you are.
Offending or insulting experienced employees doesn’t inspire engagement and hard work. This principle applies to people of all ages. Don’t expect anyone you’re pushing out to rise up in support of your leadership.
I think you’re onto something with mentoring. Organizations are seeing years of wisdom walk out the door. Mentoring is one way to capture the skill and wisdom that resides in the heads of experienced employees. But how?
Tap into the mentoring spirit.
I’m currently designing a mentoring approach to train new employees for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. I plan to begin the training by inviting experienced people to reflect on the people who mentored them.
Hunting is big where the mentor training will occur. I plan to have them think about experienced hunters/anglers who taught them the ropes.
- Who mentored you?
- How did it feel when someone taught you how to shoot a bow or find hungry fish?
- How do you feel about the people who shared their experience and knowledge?
- What was the result of being mentored?
- Begin by thinking about skills.
- Include the way it made you feel.
- Talk about long-term and short-term results.
Once they have smiles on their faces, we’ll turn toward others.
Encourage experienced employees to think outside themselves.
- What did your mentors do?
- What were they like?
- How did they feel about themselves? You?
- How might being a mentor make life better for you both at work and outside work?
- If you were mentoring inexperienced employees, what might be happening?
Mentors make life better for others.
Most elders cherish the opportunity and enjoy the status that comes with being a mentor. But there might also be resistance. Experienced employees might say:
- I had to learn the hard way, so should they.
- Young people don’t listen. They think they already know it all.
- I don’t have the patience.
- It’s not my job.
- These kids don’t appreciate it when you help them.
Resistance is opportunity.
Find ways to open your heart, rather than clenching your fist, when you encounter resistance.
Purpose answers resistance.
Ask experienced employees how life might be more meaningful if they learned and practiced mentoring skills?
- How might mentoring skills make relationships with children and grandchildren richer?
- How might mentoring skills improve your abilities to coach youth sports teams?
- How might mentoring skills make life better for new employees?
- How might new inexperienced employees feel about themselves, you, their future?
- How might you feel about yourself if you become a skillful mentor?
I’m assuming that your elder employees are within a year or two of retiring. You might consider an approach that focuses more on performance if the timeline for retirement is more than two years out.
Thanks for your question. Perhaps this post will give you some ideas to run with.
What suggestions might you offer Stuck?
* I relax the 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.
Good ideas. Maybe have a backup plan for when somebody says “Hey, nobody ever mentored me. I wouldn’t know where to start!”
I’m one of those 30 year employees with SO much energy and commitment that a question like this makes me sad. My recommendation? Watch out for starting spirals that discourage engagement. Examples include
-no longer approaching experienced staff with rich opportunities
-deciding to give a top opportunity to someone who is earlier in career and letting the experienced person find out through the grapevine
-publicly announcing that “all the good people leave” or ” we need to bring in some people with fresh ideas”
Think of the incredible resource we have in our 30 year employees. If we partner with them to learn how to maximize the years they will be with our organization, everyone wins.
Thanks Jan. Love your passion. It seem like respect is important to success with our elders.
I wonder if the experience of long-term employees might feel intimidating to the inexperienced. In that case, they might feel reluctant to approach a 30 yr employee.
Your suggestions are very valuable.
I’m 66+ and still working. The question also makes me sad; I really wouldn’t want to work for “Stuck.” Whether someone is a coaster or a go-getter is mostly built into their personality. A coaster has probably coasted a good part of his or her career for every project that they weren’t excited about, maybe even changed jobs a lot. A good leader will try to keep the experienced person engaged and want to pass on their experience knowledge to a newer person in live time. My experience is that my supervisor thought that I was going to fly the coop the month that I turned 65 and 1) didn’t understand why I didn’t want to quit the minute I turned 65 plus 2) wanted me to document everything that I had ever done so that an entry level person could follow the “cookbook.” Talk about feeling pushed out. I stuck it out and finished several projects that I had started and a year and a half later, I’m still working projects, documenting how to use different calculators, teaching the newer folks that there is a calculator for something as it happens and my supervisor has realized that one has to know enough to know there is a calculator (with or without instructions) for an activity. Now my supervisor says that I can stay as long as I want.
Start with your parents, they mentor us till we leave home and further through life if you have a tight bond.
Next level are all your Teachers you have in School, College, or sports coaches along your life’s journey.
Don’t forget all your friends who helped you or you helped them.
Much bigger anyone who evdr thought o.ne thing was or is a Mentor.
Thanks Tim. You offer a great place to find examples. We often bring up parents and teachers when we think of people who made a difference for us. The qualities of successful mentors are easy to identify. Translating qualities into behaviors is the place where the rubber hits the road.
Your employees delivering what you ask for, but no more; this is a problem many employers would like to have. If the problem is that you’re not satisfied with the standards you’re setting,have you considered raising the bar for _all_ employees? Maybe these folks have demonstrated a skill of maintaining a sustainable pace throughout a career, rather than a sprint to nowhere. They’re not going to do what greenhorns do: an 80 hour week getting paid for 40 against the vague possibility of a promotion which at this stage of life they won’t be in line for anyway. Do you have any motivators other than promotion to offer? Perhaps if you are paying them more on account of the experience you can explain that the extra pay for the same work implies taking the time to train their replacement, assuming that you _are_ paying more (and they’ll probably argue they’re doing better and faster work so they should be getting paid more anyway). If you’re expecting them to go the extra mile for you, what’s in it for them?
Thanks Douglas. Fascinating approach. Apart from compensation, explaining a mentoring role as training a replacement brings up mixed emotions. I like the idea, but wonder how others might feel.
I suppose if we take the approach that the organization has been the source of livelihood we might be able to appeal to helping others find their livelihood.
This is such a management challenge. When I took over management of a small local government department, all three part time people were over 70, with few 21st century tech skills, little motivation, power-hoarding and defensiveness as behavioral drivers. One was an extreme bully, one an extreme follower and the other so demoralized he had stopped doing anything he didn’t want to do. My charge was to get them to work together. When I realized the extent of the basic tech skill set problem, I mandated online training to bring up skill levels. That didn’t work because I also realized that some of the “I don’t know how to do that,” was a cover for you can’t make me work, whipper snapper (I’m in my early 50s). I offered endless tasks at differing skill levels, with a “brush up” tutorial to get them started. That worked with one of them, who had a good work ethic to start with. Give it time, over a year and a half period, one retired, one left for medical reasons, and the other quit because he refused to be managed. I recommend the Harvard Business School management tip of the day, and their publications to deal with the team you inherited. Their tips and language were useful in the written communication often necessary in these cases. My other advice is to keep a journal of things they mention off-hand, best at lunch or when you get home, and never kept at the office. For example, one of these employees initially told me she had to work to pay for her cancer treatments. When she retired, she told me she had numerous trust funds, several houses owned free and clear and insurance money from her late husband. Expect manipulation if they feel threatened, be supportive but also really maintain boundaries for yourself. I felt like I was running a senior day care center and got really burned out. I appreciate that retirement is not applicable in many instances, either financially or based on the agency our jobs provide us. That said, paying employees who are not productive, or whose behavior requires 25-50% of your management time in write ups isn’t good either. Manage, manage, manage; it worked for me when all other department heads told me nothing would/could change!!!
Thanks Anoymous. My experience with leaders is that dealing with de-motivated people is common. Thanks for sharing your own experience and approach.
Your comment reminds me that we cannot force anyone to do anything for very long.
Taking age out the equation (1) reach mutual agreement between yourself and your employee, (2) agree upon, either a ‘wind down’ plan or a ‘new initiative plan’. What these plans would contain, would have to be mutually agreed.
“Organizations are seeing years of wisdom walk out the door. Mentoring is one way to capture the skill and wisdom that resides in the heads of experienced employees.” – this struck a cord and yes it saddens. Losing these people can be so, so damaging to an organisation.
Over the years I have seen so, so many, many long term, experienced, people with first hand knowledge and yes initiative go and as much as I hate saying this, it the kind of knowledge, experience and initiative that is very, very difficult to record, document in these times. I would even go so far as to say, some knowledge and experience can be almost impossible to record or document.
Thanks Thinker. The idea that it’s all about the people popped into my mind while reading your comment. Perhaps it would be simpler if it was all about systems and processes. But one thing is sure, it’s the people who make organizational life richer.
110%, possibly more so, agree!
Sometimes, I think, in this era, it is forgotten, there are 3, possibly more ‘cogs’ to reaching a successful outcome, a successful goal (1) people (2) processes (3) systems, I would also say, in that order.
Putting the scenario into a ‘mechanical’ thought, if there were 3 cogs working a mechanism, what happen when one breaks down?
You have and always will have processes & systems (I hope), what I think is forgotten, taken for-granted, no matter what is being done, there will be a human required, a human touch, in the chain, in the process, in the system.
Management needs to ask itself, “How important is it to the company to have a mentoring program for potential mentors nearing retirement?” If it is important to the success and competitiveness of the company, then figure out what it is worth to you on a per mentor basis. That’s right, you need to incentivize mentoring with money over and above current salary AND it must be a full-time activity. Why money over and above salary, because you are asking the mentor to tap into his/her 30+ years of knowledge and impart this knowledge in a meaningful way to those being mentored. Typically, this is a very different type of work and is not suited for everyone nearing retirement. BTW, think about it this way. No retiree was hired 30+ years ago to become a mentor just before taking retirement, so make it worth their while to be a mentor by giving more money and prestige for the knowledge you paid for that resides between their ears.
Thanks Jim. You remind me that sometimes we say we value people but our actions don’t demonstrate it. It’s always a pleasure to see that you’ve dropped in.