LRMG Performance Agency

Older Employees Can Play Valuable Mentorship Role

Posted in Article on May 22, 2012 by: Ricky Robinson

Many of today’s organisational designs and talent management practices are based on the assumption that the population, and the workforce in particular, is shaped like a pyramid when reflecting age demographics.

However, this is no longer the case.


A recent demographic study conducted by the United Nations shows that unlike the pyramid population formation which sees an abundance of young people, less middle aged, and very few elderly people, the new population demographic shape in most countries is that of a diamond or rectangle. Most experts predict a steady move towards an inverted pyramid-shaped population as the old begin outnumbering the young.


The idea of traditional retirement is changing rapidly and will need to do so to catch up to the numerous global changes that have radically transformed and impacted on our modern world and lifestyles. Better technology, wider dissemination of knowledge, lifelong learning, better nutrition and healthcare, as well as higher standards of living generally, have all impacted dramatically on population demographics over the past few decades. As a result we are living and are capable of working significantly longer than ever before.


Locally, high inflation rates along with legitimate expectations of longer life have left the older generation with insufficient pension funds, resulting in them having to work well into their later years in order to make ends meet. Statistics suggest that currently, only one in sixteen South Africans of retirement age can afford to retire. This is further compounded by South Africa’s ‘sandwich generation’- people who are paying for their children’s education and may also be supporting a young adult child who is struggling to find work, as well as supporting elderly parents battling to survive on their life savings. 


And while the number of older people is on the increase, the number of younger people is decreasing. Substantially lower birth and fertility rates have seen a huge decrease in the number of children per woman in many parts of the world. Even Africa saw a decrease from five children per woman in 1950 to four by the year 2000. In China, statistics show that the number of 20-24 year olds and 65+ year olds is currently about equal. By 2030 however, the old will outnumber the young by 150 million.


As these population demographics naturally filter down into the workforce, there are some fundamentals that organisations should be taking into consideration. The first and most obvious is to re-look internal policies regarding mandatory retirement, keeping in mind the benefit the older generation brings to the workforce. The older workers or ‘grey-beards’ have vast  organisation-specific knowledge and skill sets which together with useful  experience  can be passed down to the younger workers. Coaching and mentoring is one effective form of learning and passing on knowledge. Many organisations are also considering how best to ‘institutionalise’ the intellectual property of their older generation of workers. 


Baby boomers have also been shown to be more loyal to their employers. In a study conducted by Social Scientist Daniel Yankelovich, 50% of the respondents agreed that workers today have less loyalty to their companies than they used to. It has also been shown that Generation X’ers have a different idea of success, which arguably could undermine the necessity for hard work. Generation X’ers want to work less and have more fun. They believe success equates to a balance between work and fun. Baby boomers are therefore the ones that are more likely to work harder and value work more.


Consequently organisations should also be re-looking their recruitment policies. Should they elect to only hire younger people, thereby choosing to disregard the knowledge, skill and experience attained by the older generation, they may well be narrowing and having a negative impact on the internal talent pool.

A good option is to relook policies to attract older, skilled employees for certain roles. Having older leaders with a successful track record can help build stronger leaders in the upcoming generation. Attract them with the option to ‘do less’ or work shorter days for fair compensation, or make allowance for part time, cyclical workers.


Set attractive career paths for older employees. Older employees may no longer be looking to climb the corporate ladder and would prefer to do what they have learned to do best. They may even be more comfortable with horizontal movements as they no longer necessarily have the drive and the energy to strive for higher more pressurised job posts


Most importantly, position the older generation so that they are able to impart their knowledge and skill sets to the next generation. Organisations should be doing this in a way that allows them to retain all of this valuable experience and expertise even when the older set do eventually make the move to opt for retirement.

In the end, like most things in life, a balance needs to be struck: youthful energy, drive and tech-savviness, along with retention of institutional knowledge and valuable experience, with carefully crafted strategies to pass that experience on to a younger generation. The Talent Manager’s job has just become more important, and more difficult, at the same time!

blog comments powered by Disqus