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Workplace knowledge transfer difficult, new employees forced to start from scratch

May 26, 2022
ByTalent Canada


(Bunditinay/Adobe Stock)

Many Canadian businesses are facing a business continuity challenge when it comes to knowledge transfer, according to a recent survey commissioned by staffing company Express Employment Professionals from The Harris Poll.

With the growing number of senior employees set to exit the workforce, the survey showed companies are not taking adequate steps for knowledge transition, resulting in costly training and decline in work productivity.

Generational gap in the workplace

The vast majority (83 per cent) of Canadian businesses surveyed believe it is a big loss when older employees retire without passing along their knowledge to younger employees, with two-thirds of them saying knowledge transfer is essential for employees to perform their job responsibilities with others.

In the workplace, Boomer employees (52 per cent) – those born in mid- ‘40s to mid- ‘60s – are more likely than their younger counterparts to report feeling knowledgeable, compared to Gen Z (43 per cent), Millennials (44 per cent) and Gen X (46 per cent) employees. Additionally, younger employees view Boomers in the workplace as having valuable knowledge (61 per cent), someone they can learn a lot from (48 per cent), and as a role model to look up to (36 per cent).

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Yet only half of Boomers (54 per cent) say they have shared all or most of the knowledge needed for their successors to perform their job after they retire.

Filling in the gaps

While the numbers ran by The Harris Poll seemed bleak, it still was an apparent 40 per cent increase from 2018. As such, the survey showed 3 in 5 employees believe that their employer is taking adequate steps to make sure they don’t experience “brain drain,” or the failure to perform knowledge transfer.

Tash Damjanovic, owner of an Express Employee Professionals franchise in Toronto related to the survey output: “Very few companies are taking a consistent and creative approach to addressing the issue of baby boomers leaving their organizations. Much more thought needs to be put into creating novel ways to keep them engaged, especially as they leave the workforce in large numbers, during the tightest labour market in the past half century.”

Terry Stewart, an Express Employee Professionals franchise owner in Surrey, B.C., also expressed his thoughts about the importance for retiring boomers to share their knowledge before leaving the workplace, and how it should be part of a company’s culture.

“Why reinvent the wheel if it has been done before. What worked and what didn’t need to be shared, and if some things were tried before and didn’t work, the company needs to find out why before these employees leave,” said Stewart.

“Baby boomers are a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, not only in terms of leadership and technical skills, but also the organizational memory that you really cannot acquire by hiring a new employee,” said Damjanovic. “Anyone that has been with a company for many years will have insights around what has served the company well and can provide context around key corporate values and culture.”

Stewart says mentorship can be an effective way for retiring employees to share their knowledge and skills.

Taking the next steps

According to Stewart, reiterating the importance of knowledge transfer is a process that involves having “long-term employees take on mentoring roles in the organization.” That way, companies will be able to communicate to baby boomers the value of their work, as such allowing them to take pride in their professional contribution.

Damjanovic advises companies to not assume their relationship with retiring employees and the knowledge they possess must end as soon as they retire and to look at options like semi-retirement.

“Baby boomers are looking to stay engaged in novel ways but also on their own terms so companies need to think creatively how they can tap into the knowledge baby boomers have, beyond a standard 40-hour employee relationship,” said Damjanovic. “Continuing mentorship, not just of their immediate team but of individuals across the board, can help pass on some of that organizational memory and technical skills that are at risk of being lost.”

Every generation brings value to the workforce, and time is running out to enact knowledge succession plans for these senior employees, according to Express Employment International CEO Bill Stoller.

“While many practices and processes have changed over the years in the labour force, baby boomers have so much wisdom and life experience to pass on to benefit today’s newest workers,” he added.


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