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GENERATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE: Exodus – Implications of the "Baby Boomer" Retirement Onslaught

Guest Blogger:  Celie White, SPHR, has worked for numerous organizations in the health care and financial sector as a human resources professional for over 20 years.  Her experience includes implementing in-house training teams, designing training programs and workshops, and working as an HR professional with the hiring of multiple generations of staff:


According to, we can expect baby boomers to retire at the rate of 6,000 per day for the next several years!  A recent joint survey conducted by SHRM and AARP seems to indicate that if organizations are not already taking steps to prepare for the “baby boomer” exodus from the workforce, most of it projected to occur in the next 5 years or so, they may already be behind.

Some interesting key findings from the survey:

– Only 40% of the nearly 500 organizations surveyed have conducted strategic workforce planning assessments to determine their needs for the next 5 years.  Translation:  more than half aren’t even aware of how large a problem may exist!

– Writing in English (grammar and spelling) was identified as the top basic skill older (50 or older) workers possess that is not readily seen among younger workers (30 or younger)!

– In terms of applied skills, professionalism/work ethic was cited by over half of these organizations as not exhibited by younger workers.

– Some other important applied skills where older workers are perceived as having the advantage:  critical thinking/problem solving, written/oral communications and leadership.

Given these key findings and the fact that, according to the SHRM/AARP survey, 76% of organizations see the “baby boomer exodus” as being a crisis or a problem/potential problem, what, if anything, are they doing about it?  The top three actions:

– About 30% have hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers

– Almost two-fifths (38%) have developed succession plans, and

– The largest number (45%) have increased training and cross-training efforts

Based on the projected applied skills gap findings cited above, these approaches aren’t surprising.  There were a number of others, but these were the top three.  It seems to me that these three approaches aren’t mutually exclusive in terms of building a strategic plan to address the loss of experienced, talented workers.  In fact, I would suggest that to develop a truly effective strategy to prepare for, and come out ahead after the loss, requires a combination of approaches.  If we were to use just the three listed above, I believe we could develop a strong, viable plan to support the goal of effectively replacing talent.

It does my training heart good to see that the largest number recognize training as a key component of their plans for a successful transition; however, there’s more needed.  While we know that millennial workers want clear, comprehensive direction for doing their jobs, as a baby boomer, I realize we may have been somewhat remiss in providing the detail that younger workers seek.  I believe this happens, for the most part, for one very simple reason – baby boomers, for better or worse, didn’t ask for all the details on how to do the job and what was expected.  We were given the “outline” version and set out to figure the rest out for ourselves.  We liked doing it that way and it worked for us, most of the time.  Not true of our younger colleagues.  They want and need the details to be successful.  I think that puts the responsibility on us seasoned workers to ensure others are ready to step up when we leave.

So, what do we need to do now to prepare?  Any good solution starts with a plan – in this case a succession plan.  Some steps to creating a plan:

1. Start by identifying jobs that will be vacated.

2. For each of those jobs you want to fill, identify competencies and skills that are needed to do those jobs.  You may already have some of this information in your job descriptions.

3. Identify workers with potential to fill these jobs and assess the competencies and skills they bring with them.

4. Then identify the competencies and skills requiring training/cross-training in order to prepare them, along with a realistic timeline for the training to take place.

5. You’ll also want to identify gaps where no potential in-house candidates exist and steps you will need to take to fill these positions (recruitment and possibly retention strategies).

Now let’s focus on the training/coaching component – and who better to help prepare potential successors than those proficient/skilled in doing the job.  Here is where your older/retired workers may become invaluable in the process.  I can’t speak for my peers in the baby boomer generation, but I’m just old enough to appreciate it when someone sees value in what I know and wants to learn from me!  I suspect, given the fact that human beings like to feel valued and important, many of my peers probably feel the same way.

However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to all highly skilled workers being able to impart their knowledge to others.  In point of fact, there are a number of roadblocks to this, including:

1. Highly-skilled workers’ familiarity with their areas of expertise sometimes prevents them from providing all the details needed for someone else to learn what they know.  It’s similar to a great cook inadvertently leaving out an ingredient or two when sharing a recipe because (s)he has it all in memory and doesn’t think of it in detailed steps or pieces.  The result is the learner doesn’t obtain all the knowledge needed to develop the skill(s).

2. When coaching/training someone else, it is common for the novice coach/trainer to assume knowledge on the part of the learner.  Certain steps, knowledge, skills, and/or processes have become so routine, in some cases, to the highly-skilled worker that (s)he assumes the learner has the same knowledge and understanding.  As a result, the learning process may seem disjointed and confusing.

3. After having done a job for a number of years and learning it well over a period of time, highly-skilled workers may tend to forget the time it took them to gain their skills and knowledge.  As a result, highly-skilled workers may become impatient with new learners because they don’t possess the skills and knowledge or aren’t, in the coach’s opinion, learning quickly enough.

4. Protecting “ownership” of their jobs may, in some workers, become an obstacle to freely sharing and imparting knowledge about doing the job successfully.  We all want to feel valued, needed and appreciated, which can take the form of some workers wanting to protect their “territory” and wanting to feel that no one will ever be able to do the job as well as they have.  In essence, they don’t want to give up what they worked so hard to achieve, in some cases, without help from someone else.  It’s the proverbial “I paid my dues, why shouldn’t they?” syndrome.

Many of us learned a lot of what we know the “hard way”, and we now have an opportunity to share those experiences, skills and knowledge which creates an opportunity for us to make a tremendous, positive impact on those who will follow in our wake.  I find that exciting!  In order to help you bridge the gap between your leaving talent and on-boarding talent, we have produced a free Organizational Competencies Risk Assessment for you to download.  This assessment will help determine, based on your organization or departments competencies, where you might be at risk of losing talent.  I encourage you to download it today.




Don’t have the resources (people, time, know-how) to assess your organization, prepare a succession plan and/or train your staff in preparation for coaching or moving up?  New Directions newest work session might do the trick!  Take a look at our Preparing for Tomorrow’s Talent Gap work session and please contact us to discuss how we may assist you.

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