The following story was told by Mary Ellen Gornick, senior vice president at Workplace Options, a global provider of employee assistance programs and work-life solutions.
Client: A healthcare company located in the Midwestern United States with approximately 11,000 to 12,000 employees.
Problem: Approximately 20 percent of the workforce was of retirement age. The organization had spent the previous three to five years planning for succession and knowledge transfer and grooming new leaders. Baby boomers were not leaving in droves as anticipated, so the company had to switch gears.
Diagnosis: Retirement was postponed for many workers because the recession derailed their financial planning.
Methods/Tools: In 2005, Gornick worked with the company to plan for the expected boomer exodus. She completed a demographic analysis of the workforce, looking at employees' ages per position, division, location, and so forth to determine the impact of a talent drain in the organization. She identified the possible skills gaps that could open up within the next five to 10 years and asked what critical skills were needed to fill the gaps? Was the organization building a workforce that had these skills?
Next, Gornick examined the potential risk of employees leaving high-knowledge roles and leadership positions without proper succession planning. She conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups with individuals in their early, mid, and late careers to gauge how different generations viewed their positions, supervisors, organization, and future employment.
When the landscape changed as a result of the recession, Gornick was called back at the end of 2009 to reassess the company's leadership development and succession planning strategy. She conducted follow-up interviews with positions that were previously identified as "at-risk"—people who had planned to move on. She asked these employees if they wanted to remain in their current roles, working at the same pace, or if they were ready to scale back. She assessed what changes (if any) they needed to undergo to remain engaged and effective in their jobs.
Gornick conducted training with workers aged 60 and older on wellness, personal development and reinvention, and future retirement options. The organization expanded its wellness coaching for older employees and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes. Gornick also trained management-level employees to engage workers and confront issues in a multigenerational workplace.
Results: Leaders had been thinking strategically for years, so they understood their workers and had the knowledge necessary to manage change effectively. Six months after the analysis and training initiative, the company experienced a 0.75 percent drop in its retention rate (that is, more employees stayed than left).