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Don't Give Up on Your Aging Boomers Just Yet (part 1)
Adapted from their new book, "Generations, Inc."
By Larry and Meagan Johnson

According to a survey of more than 2,200 employees ages 17 to 81 and representing nine organizations in different industries, "older Baby Boomers (ages 53 to 61) reported significantly less support from their supervisors to acquire additional training to further their careers than did workers ages 27 to 52" (Generation Xers and younger Boomers). They also reported less access to flexible work options than did Gen Xers and Gen Yers. In addition, "those with the least amount of job tenure (0-3 years) felt more supported by their supervisors, and that they had greater access to learning and development opportunities than those with more than three years on the job."

Don't Neglect Their Growth Needs

Neglecting the growth needs of Baby Boomers is understandable. They seem to be successful doing what they are doing, so why would they need it? After all, they'll be leaving soon, so why waste money training them when it can be better spent on someone younger?

That can be a mistake, because many Boomers aren't planning to retire any time soon. In fact, in an AARP survey, 27 percent of workers ages 45 and up said the economic slowdown had prompted them to postpone plans to retire. More than three quarters of the Boomers surveyed (76 percent) said they intend to keep working and earning in retirement. For some, working is an economic necessity. Other Boomers simply like working and can't imagine life without a productive job.

Since most Gen Xers and Gen Yers view their jobs as temporary assignments, paying to train older employees may be the safer bet. Even if the Boomer retires before you get a return on your investment, you may be able to recover that investment with some creative planning.

We know a Baby Boomer telecommunications engineer who oversaw the installation of large phone systems for big corporate customers. Six months before her retirement, her company significantly upgraded these systems, which required extensive new training for installers and the completion of a certification process. Her boss made a deal with her: He would send her to the training so she could be certified if she would agree to be on call for one year after retiring at her regular salary, prorated to a daily fee. It was a win/win. The company got the benefit of her certification for the last year she was there, plus a full year of being an on-call contractor. She got the benefit of being able to charge other consulting clients more after she retired because she had this certification.

Whether or not you can work such a sweet deal with your Baby Boomers, it would serve you well to think twice before automatically writing them off for training, no matter how close they are to leaving.

Leverage Strength in New Ways

Baby Boomers have had long careers to hone skills that can very often be put to use in new and innovative ways. Give them the opportunity to do so; it will help them restart their motors and renew their commitment to the organization.

Here's an example of how one company did this. The Medical Records department at Health Central in Ocoee, Florida, had poor turnaround time that impacted Accounts Receivable days and unbilled discharges. Patient and physician satisfaction were poor because the department was not timely in releasing medical records for continuity of care. Employee morale and satisfaction were extremely low and turnover was high. Internal customer satisfaction was also very low. To make things worse, the department had recently implemented an electronic medical record system, and users had not been trained to use it. The Department Director had resigned and the hospital was looking for a replacement.

The Director of the hospital's Quality Management Department, Kathy Deel, suggested that she could run Medical Records, as well as Quality Management. Kathy had successfully combined these two departments at another hospital.

The Executive Committee gave her the go-ahead. Kathy, who was 55 years of age at the time, told us that the challenge was like a shot of adrenalin for her. Under her leadership, the newly combined department was prospering within a year. Medical record turnaround time was reduced from 4 days to 24 hours, well below the industry benchmark. She focused the staff on eliminating waste and revamping processes, which improved efficiency so much that she did not fill the vacancies that occurred with attrition. She also let some nonperformers go and didn't fill their positions.

Today, the department operates with one-third fewer employees, patient and physician satisfaction is up, and the department is recognized as one of the best medical records units by its electronic medical record vendor. Most of all, says Kathy, the staff members that remained have an attitude of pride and team spirit that was missing before she took over.

The lesson here?

Your oldest employees may be your most loyal, knowledgeable, wise, motivated, and the hardest working among those in your organization. If you give them a new look, you may be very surprised at the return you get.

About the Authors:
Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team, are the Johnson Training Group (www.johnsontraininggroup.com), whose clients include several government agencies, American Express, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Dairy Queen, and many others. They are leading experts on managing multigenerational workplaces, and are coauthors of Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters - Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work (Amacom, 2010).

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