In this week's blog: 45-55-year-olds are disappearing from the workplace...why, and what does this mean for your company?

It’s one of the most haunting books of the last decade.

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta, opens several years after 2% of humanity has disappeared from the face of the earth.

One minute they’re there… the next minute they’re gone.

Once the initial shock wears off, life continues pretty much as normal for the remaining population. But everyone is in a psychological daze.

Some people live in the past, haunted by the loss of their relatives. Others adapt by running away, and starting afresh elsewhere. Many rebel, behaving in ways they would never have done previously.

While on the surface, not much has changed, in reality everything has changed.

Now let’s do a little thought experiment.

You’re sitting in your office one fine day, there’s a flash of lightning, and…

…part of your workforce has suddenly disappeared! Everyone between the ages of 45 and 55 is gone.

workplace-peopleOf course, no matter your age, I’m assuming that you’re still here (and even though I turn 50 this month, I’m still around too to write about all this 😊).

But you’ve probably lost some pretty senior members of staff. After all, 45-55 is a classic age for people to take up top leadership positions.

How much knowledge has just disappeared into thin air? I’m guessing an enormous amount, because these are people who have been working for many years.

No matter what position they hold, they have accumulated decades’ worth of experience that even your most talented younger staff can’t match. Your business is going to suffer.

Depending on your sector, you may also have lost people with valuable networks. Those are going to be hard to replicate.

What about institutional memory? Chances are that you have just lost some of your most longstanding employees. When they have gone, some of your company’s history and character will be lost, too.workplace-pre-retirement

And without their knowledge of what has gone before, prepare to repeat some mistakes…   

Of course, you can hire people to replace this lost segment of staff. But recruitment is costly, and you might struggle to find people with similar skills and experience. A string of temporary staff might be your only option, even though that’s very unsettling.

And spare a thought for your remaining team.

Luckily, they’re unlikely to join a cult or resort to drinking, like some of the characters in Tom Perrotta’s book!

But they’ll still need some coping mechanisms, because many will have lost mentors. And when some of the most knowledgeable and experienced staff disappear, everyone is going to find work more challenging.

It’s not a welcome scenario, is it?

But unfortunately, it’s not fiction…

…because even though our 45-55-year-olds are unlikely to collectively disappear in a puff of smoke, they are disappearing from the workplace.

As I explained in my last few blog posts, this tends to be a time of flux.

Many people find themselves struggling to care for elderly or ill relatives for the first time in their lives – often while still caring for their children. As a result, 600 people a week leave the workplace. Many others unwillingly go part-time.

At the same time, they may find that as they grow older, their interests and priorities at work change, and that what fulfilled them in the past no longer does.

Or they may simply feel stymied in their careers as their companies focus their development and promotion opportunities on younger people.

Anecdotal evidence shows that they often seek new outlets, switching jobs or becoming self-employed entrepreneurs (hence the rise of the “olderpreneurs”).

But while these are personal issues, there is a significant cost for you, the employer: n… Namely, all those problems I outlined above.

Wouldn’t it be worth taking some simple steps to support these employees, and help them plot a path through this difficult period so that they stay with you?

Even if you could keep just a proportion of those who are thinking of quitting – and make no mistake, there may even be people in this age bracket on your team, having these thoughts right now – you would retain the key organisational memory, knowledge and skills that mid-career workers bring.

While your competitors lose some of their most experienced, knowledgeable employees, you would retain yours.

And while they struggle to replace those key members of staff, together with all their skills and capabilities, it would be business as usual in your company.

Unfortunately, all too often, companies don’t invest enough in people mid-career, preferring to focus resources on attracting and retaining younger staff.

There is often very little training, very little career planning, and certainly none of the emotional and psychological support people might need to deal with the challenges of this transitional life-stage.

But I have a simple action you can take to help people in this segment and keep them with you, which won’t cost much in either time or money….

…in fact, it’s a no-brainer.

I’ll tell you about it over the next few weeks. Watch out for that blog!

Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Age diversity, Recruitment

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