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Column | Angela Holmes: Beware of the Silver Tsunami
Business Management

Column | Angela Holmes: Beware of the Silver Tsunami

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Brace yourself as we are now experiencing the Silver Tsunami.

The Silver Tsunami is a phrase referring to our aging U.S. workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by the year 2022, more than 25 percent of U.S. workers will be 55 or older. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that this is one of the terms coined for the wave of 10,000 workers turning age 65 daily. NPR recently reported that about 10,000 workers reaching retirement age daily in the U.S.

This is a tsunami indeed.

Wait a minute. I know plenty of people in the “traditional” retirement age and they are still working. Yes, some in the traditional retirement age are staying in the workforce. Some are even choosing to work into their 70s, and even their 80s, however the outward migration of retirees from the workforce is still vast. Is there truly need for panic? We surely should have seen this tsunami from the shore years ago.

Actually, we did know this was coming but knowing and taking action are two entirely different things. What can you do to be ready for this at your organization?

The Silver Tsunami is more than just the act of retiring, which these employees certainly deserve to do should they want to. What keeps me up at night is the knowledge transfer that needs to happen and fast. These longtime employees have so much knowledge, skills and abilities that are lost the minute they exit those front doors. We cannot just download this knowledge from them and transfer it in real time to some other person. They have learned this painstakingly over years.

There are not enough binders at Staples to produce manuals for someone who has spent their career, many of them at one employer. Some employers are seeing employees retire after spending 45-plus years with them.

Just stop and consider all of the “tribal knowledge” that this retiree knows. At my employer, National Railway Equipment Co., we recently had an employee retire after working for us since he was 18. We are a locomotive manufacturer and rebuilder. Can you even imagine the extent of the knowledge he took with him to him well deserved retirement. Some of what he knows — he doesn’t even know he knows. Amazing.

Think about your organization and the knowledge that you carry within the special and unique people that you employ. Everyone has so much value. How can we do better to protect and transfer this knowledge? It is hard in the U.S. as we tend to do things the way we have always done them but other countries have found ways to tackle these things. We must do better with change.

Personally, I see several possible changes that can be made immediate. Look to the current workforce and create a succession plan right away. Plan for these retirements and make transitions now.

Also consider the following ideas:

• Flexible scheduling that meets customer demands but also the employee’s needs.

• Mentorships for new employees, young employees, old employees. There are many ways and reasons to do this.

• Apprenticeships are our future. We must fill the skills gap and this is how we can do this. Many employers in our area are doing this now. There are funds that can help.

• Incentives and recognition beyond the scope of money to add to the compensation plan.

• Be quick to change.

• Efficiency based production.

• Non-traditional applicants to fill roles.

What are big picture solutions that leaders today can employ to meet this challenge head on?

1. Attract talent. Go after true talent. Be bold. Stop making the quick and easy hire.

2. Build retention strategies that are catered to your organization. Put some thought into it. Retention strategies can differ by department, by age band and by person.

3. Use rewards and recognition to their fullest potential. Get employees involved to help generate ideas and programs. Launch project teams.

4. Address and discuss differences in your workforce including strengths and gaps. It is OK. The different generations do exist in the workforce right now and they all want to be spoken to. Make peace with this and embrace it. Gone are the days where everyone is treated exactly the same all of the time. Ensure you are not discriminating by fully understanding what this means. If you do not understand what this means, enlist a professional to help.

5. Understand that people are what make it all work. People are your greatest resource. This is easy to forget. What can you do for the people that work for you? What could make their jobs easier, better, more efficient? Consider and ponder this at least once per day.

6. Improve communication. Look at the ways that your organization communicates. Look at the way that you communicate to others. Communication can always be improved.

Angela Holmes is a HRCI certified human resource expert, writer and public speaker, and Vice President of Human Resources at National Railway Equipment Co. She is best known for her human resource career in Williamson and Jefferson counties. Angela can be reached at, follow her on Twitter at @Angela_Holmes_1 and Instagram at @aholmes91.


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