Reducing Late Career Attrition

By Barry Sweeny, © 2005


The Problem With Late Career Attrition – The INVISIBLE Loss of Productivity

Basically stated, when valued employees leave, the productivity of their organization
decreases. (See part two of this paper for a discussion of how this occurs.) This drop in productivity is inevitable, but is often much more serious than most people or organizations know.

When a key person retires or leaves for any reason, everyone else who is involved in related work, tries their darndest to hold together the processes and projects which are at-risk. They work extra hours to be sure deadlines are made. They do less of their own work to be able to do more of the departed person’s work. And for these and other reasons, the loss of productivity is masked. The viability of those projects are often maintained, but it “comes out of the hide” of the remaining employees.

A similar pattern happens when inappropriate downsizing occurs. The crucial stuff gets the attention of those employees who remain and the less critical stuff slides or is not done at all.

While the loss of productivity is masked by the well-intentioned efforts, OTHER effects start to show up. For example, the number of errors increases, the number of unreturned phone calls and unanswered email requests increase, and the moral of employees drops. This author has seen this scenario in many, very diverse settings. Here are three:

  • A well known suburban Chicago hospital publicaly displays the data
    collected regarding a host of crucial and less crucial patterns. Each department
    and each shift is tracked for these indicators and the results are displayed in the cafeteria for the world to see. That’s quite a commitment to be held accountable for increased results! But, the number of patients with bed sores, the rate of secondary patirnt infections, the number of days of employee absences, and other indicators were rising every month.The hospital’s inability to retain sufficient experienced, quality staff is impacting productivity in invisible ways and the effect is visible in other symptoms.

  • A nuclear power plant in the SW USA has a majority of its senior engineers
    beginning to retire. Most of those remaining are just on the verge of retirement.
    In their employee cafeteria, a big chart displays the color coded indicators for about 20 major factors related to plant efficiency, safety, and output. These factors
    are used by the industry to select and award annual recognition to outstanding organizations in that industry. Until recently, this power plant has consistently won top awards.
    However, in the last two years there is a lot less green (good) on the cafeteria
    chart and about 1/3 of the factors are showing yellow (not so good) and a few more
    each month are showing red. The company’s loss of skilled engineers has not been
    compensated for because the company cannot find skilled nuclear engineers to hire. They have also found they cannot hire away from others what they need since ALL other nuclear plants in the nation are in a similar or worse situation.Productivity has begun to drop but other indicators are all they currently can see.

  • A school district in the Mid-Atlantic area of the USA has students which have historically done fine on achievement tests. Since federal funding is focused on poor schools, the school district has had to decrease staff development for it’s
    staff and staff improvement has not kept pace with expectations. Also, the district
    cannot afford to hire the number of teachers needed to maintain its traditionally
    smaller class enrollment sizes. As class size has increased, teachers have been forced to focus less on individual students and their problems, social promotion has increased, and student test scores have begun to drop. Administrative pressure has attempted to forestall the inevitable, but decreasing student achievement continues.The school district’s drop in productivity is masked by remaining employee efforts to sustain quality. However, other symptoms (for which there is more visible data) are effected negatively.

The loss of productivity is not inevitable, but unfortunately, it is a pervasive pattern across the USA and the world. Loss of productivity can be effected and reduced by organizations and programs which have data about their staffing needs and productivity, and which use that data to plan to compensate for those needs.

> Is your organizations so proactive? It CAN be.

> Is your mentor program positioned and designed to adequately address this challenge?

If it IS, you will NEVER need to worry about gaining sufficient resources and support to maintain a powerful mentoring initiative. It will be viewed by key decision makers as an essential element of the organization’s strategic efforts to maintain its success and accomplish it’s mission!

Did that get your attention? Read on to learn what you can do to position your mentoring program in this way.

The Impact of Late Career Attrition

The departure of your most seasoned employees can deliver a huge blow to their team and in a lesser way to the whole organization. That blow occurs in at least four ways:

  1. That specific person and all they know is gone and not available, so they cannot
    contribute to the team’s work and the productivity they originally provided is lost.
  2. The roles that person used to fulfill must be undertaken by others, and until those others develop the same level of skill and knowledge as the employee who left, their ability to fill in for the departed person is limited, and the productivity of the team will be reduced.
  3. Until the retired person is replaced, the team must work together to assume the
    roles that departed person assumed. That reduces the time available to the other
    employees to do their own work, and so their own productivity is reduced.
  4. Even when someone is employeed to take the departed person’s place, the new person cannot be as skilled or knowledgeable about that specific role and their productivity will be lower, further dragging down the team’s productivity.

Think of it this way. Every time an experienced veteran employee leaves your organization a “library burns”. This happens because of the leaving employee’s accumulated experience, skills, knowledge, network, and on-the-job savvy.

How can that person’s wisdom, experience, and accumulated knowledge be shared with others BEFORE they leave, so even if they are no longer around, their experience still serves their team and the organization.  Mentoring anyone?

Knowing andUsing Retirement Patterns

Retirement is a key element of late career employee attrition. That retirement however, can look several ways.

  • It can be early retirement, such as that taken due to internal reasons, such as employee dissatisfaction, or due to external reasons, such as changes in family plans or support needs. Early retirement is hardest to predict without data collected over time and, therefore, the ability to look back and see a historic pattern. Of course, your organization can and should do this. How else will it be able to plan to effectively prepare and cope with these changes and minimize the damage?
  • It can also be retirement at a specific age which is more predictable. Most organizations have policies and pension plans which frame when most people
    are eligible to retire. Also, federal government policy, such as the age when Social Security benefits can start, also set up these decisions for folks. Your organization can assemble and examine these data and should do so.

These and several other factors contribute to creation of retirement patterns, at least three of which you and your organization should track and use in planning.

  1. First, there is the age at which people are ELIGIBLE to retire. This is usually the earliest point in time.
  2. Next, there is the number of people who MUST retire by whatever age organizational policy dictates. This is the latest point in time.
  3. Finally, there is the age at which most employees actually CHOOSE to retire. This is most often a mid-point in time between the other two points. It is often influenced by organizational needs or the external economic landscape.

When you know these factors, the number of employees who are in each age group
(such as 50-55) can be used to predict how many employees are likely to retire in any given year. That information allows you to predict probable retirement patterns during each of the future years.

Once you know these things, your organization can begin to predict with reasonable
accuracy things like:

  • When it’s wise to get senior people involved in mentoring junior staff
  • the loss of staff productivity
  • the extent of the need for hiring of new staff
  • the need for a mentoring program and numbers of mentors which will be needed
    each year to develop and bring up to speed the new hires your organization must take on.

Knowing these things makes it easier for YOU to build a business case showing the need for the organization to invest in a mentoring program, mentor training and support, and creation of dedicated time for leading a mentoring program, etc. In fact, you can show that organizational investment in an effective mentoring programs saves the organization more than it costs.

So… what IS the solution to late career attrition?

Solutions for Late Career Attrition

To minimize the loss of intellectual capital and experience by attrition of your more senior staff, there are THREE strategies your organization should employ:

  1. You must develop incentives and adapt policies to encourage late career employees to remain on the job as long as possible.
  2. You must find ways to involve late career employees in sharing what they know with others BEFORE they depart.
  3. You also must find ways to utilize the expertise of late career employees AFTER they have gone.