The Brain Drain called Retirement

2016-04-04 17:52

We have all experienced joining a new company, being handed the procedures manual and then being told “if you want to know how things really work around here, you need to talk to Stella or David”.

Stella and David have been with the company for years, they’ve seen people come and go and they’ve seen systems and processes come and go. They know how things get done!

And then they retire. In their last year they are worked long and hard to ensure they complete whatever they’ve been working on. Today is their last day and everyone is telling them how they will be missed. And missed they will be – as they walk out the door, there goes 30 or 40 years of knowledge, experience and contacts - down the Brain Drain.

Sometimes the retiree is a senior staff member and he or she is asked to continue for a few months in a consulting role. What seldom happens, is for all retirees to be freed from their usual jobs, to take on a mentoring role, to pass on their knowledge, their skills and understanding.

Often they don’t know what they know – they didn’t have to think about what they were doing. It just came from 40 years of experience. So the company needs to invest some effort into helping them identify their value and then to provide some training to help them pass that value on. It’s convenient to think, that because someone has been performing a task for years, they are able to mentor someone else – but that’s not true – they need training to mentor others effectively.

And then, the company needs to help their retirees prepare for retirement.

Do companies really care what happens to their retirees once they walk out the door? Not much! Employers are obliged to provide counselling for employees who are retrenched, but there is no similar obligation when an employee retires – and retirement is retrenchment on steroids. So why should retirees part with their hard earned experience?  Loyalty is a two-way street - my loyalty to my employer is to pass on my wisdom; my employer’s loyalty to me is to help me prepare for the next phase of my life.

Some finance houses like Alexander Forbes, arrange retirement workshops for retirees, but their focus is on the money. Often retirees can’t attend because they can’t take time off – they are too busy completing tasks that they are going to have to hand over when they leave. And for Stella and David these workshops just highlight an underlying terror. 95% of retirees don’t have enough money to see them through a 25 year retirement. They are almost guaranteed to become dependent on their children unless they are able to re-invent themselves and find a new source of income in their old age. But how do they do that?

What is needed is some broader preparation that opens possibilities, that looks at the contribution they can continue to make, that creates a new sense of purpose and that identifies where they could create a new source of income. And it needs something more than a ½ day workshop.

It needs time to consider and to dream. It needs time for a conversation with others to explore different ideas. And it needs time to experience a new sense of freedom and opportunity.

Alan is a Retirement Coach and ex-Human Resource Director. He is amazed that companies are content to lose the expertise of their older employees and he is saddened that retirees are so poorly prepared for retirement. To address this amazement and sadness he developed The Elders Journey  He can be contacted at

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2010-11-21 18:15

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