Last month was Older Americans Month. It came and went, but older Americans should be celebrated every month, especially in the business world. It’s important to continue the conversation about what our elders have to offer, especially as thousands of Baby Boomers retire each day and Millennials take on increasingly high-profile roles in corporate environments. Rather than discounting our seasoned generations, it’s time to step away from the idea of “managing” older employees and instead seek to leverage the tremendous value they bring to your business.

Use Their Experience as Your Resource

First and foremost, the experience a seasoned employee brings to the table is unparalleled. These individuals have been through the trenches, succeeding (and often thriving) despite recessions. They’ve experienced the cyclical nature of many industries while watching technological innovation change the game. As a result, they know which old-school strategies and best practices still apply today. Such a treasure trove of knowledge can be lost when older employees retire. Many companies are grappling with this now, not realizing the knowledge an employee has until they are gone and suddenly a key component is missing from a strategy or process.

How can your company leverage this vital experience? To put it simply, write things down. Take the time, perhaps in monthly meetings, to have seasoned employees (especially those nearing retirement) document their processes and share tips for solving common issues. Ask them to document all their business contacts and to provide background information on each of those individuals, describing the relationship they hold with your business. While taking these actions is practical for ensuring a smooth transition when that employee does leave, it can also be a gamechanger in the present. Such activities help spark conversation and ideas that improve operations across the organization right now, while your seasoned employees are still under your roof.

This mentality should extend into your hiring process. Today, there’s an unconscious bias in hiring that has many hiring managers overlooking older candidates simply because they expect those candidates to retire soon. Such a mistake neglects the vast amount of expertise seasoned workers can offer, even when they are new to your company. The benefits of harnessing their experience still applies. After all, bringing in individuals who have garnered experience in other companies in your industry can be extremely valuable in revealing best practices your company may be missing.

Include Them in Succession Planning

With so much experience under their belts, seasoned professionals are vital to proper succession planning strategies. At the most basic level, these individuals can help determine who is qualified to take over their role. Ask them who they would pick as their replacement. If possible, include them in the hiring process, whether they help review resumes or participate in interviews. Given the importance of candidate screening in recruiting, seasoned employees have so much to provide in that process.

Rather than slowly remove these workers from operations as they near retirement age, find ways to leverage their expertise deeper than ever before. It may feel awkward to involve them in the process of deciding who will fill their role, but openness is how the best succession planning happens. At least 30% of newly hired executives fail in the first 18 months, and a big reason why is because the outgoing executive was not involved in the process.

Once a replacement is identified and a seasoned employee is ready to retire, the practical matter of how a transition and succession takes place becomes the priority. Is the outgoing employee able to stay on for a few days or weeks to personally train their replacement? If not, have they been documenting their strategies and best practices to provide a good start for anyone new to their role? As long as employee morale is high and the culture is a healthy one, this is not an awkward situation as many companies are concerned.

Change in the workplace is difficult, and seasoned employees can help smooth transitions even if they aren’t the ones being replaced. They can still provide valuable input for the succession planning process. After all, they’ve seen many people come and go over the years and know what works in your industry and inside your unique business.

Help Them Grow as Mentors

While succession planning and the transitioning employees into retirement without disruption to the organization are crucial practices, seasoned employees can provide a great deal of value prior to that point. Form a mentoring program that pairs veteran employees with less experienced ones. Despite 70% of Fortune 500 companies implementing some sort of mentorship program, only 25% of smaller companies do so. It’s an underutilized strategy that can be a gamechanger for many as it improves efficiency, culture, and operations.

Mentoring may sound like a huge time commitment, but it doesn’t have to be. In as little as one hour each month, perhaps even during lunch, mentors and mentees can connect to discuss successes, failures, solutions, strategies, and so much more. Fostering this relationship helps younger employees feel more comfortable reaching out with questions rather than relying on Google or trial and error. On the flip side, it makes older employees understand that their experience is valuable and worth sharing throughout the company. When an organization is connected in this fashion, with knowledge disseminated more evenly and frequently, it can reach that “next level” of success.

Seasoned Employees Deserve Our Appreciation

Without seasoned generations of talent in today’s workforce, businesses everywhere would face a number of debilitating challenges. Managing older employees is an ongoing priority for many companies, but if that focus shifts to one of celebration and appreciation, the knowledge that those employees have can be better leveraged. At ATR, we hold the utmost respect for our tenured workers, and as a result, they’ve helped us achieve some of our greatest staffing wins.

How do you leverage the expertise of your most seasoned employees? Let me know in the comments below!

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