How HR Leaders Can Retain Those On The Brink of Retirement

By Barbara Jaworski


It’s always tough replacing a great employee. It’s even tougher when that employee is an integral member of the leadership team – someone with decades of sector knowledge, an in-depth understanding of how the organization works, a keen business sense, respected leadership qualities and a great reputation in the industry. In fact, it’s almost impossible. The only way to replace someone of this calibre is to groom a successor over many months, even years.


Fortunately, most senior leaders announce their intention to leave months before their planned departure. If they’re planning to retire, they’ve made that decision slowly and started their preparations: they’ve sold the family home and moved to condos, cottages or retirement locations, they’ve purchased boats and shared their plans of sailing around the world, or they’ve begun growing their own businesses.


Large companies with well-thought out and established succession plans and robust pools of promising younger talent from which to draw, might still need that departing executive to stick around for a while longer — whether to bring their successor fully up to speed or to help with an important initiative such as an acquisition, new product launch or restructuring.


Smaller businesses that don’t have the luxury of large talent pools or the time or resources to develop a succession planning process simply want their retiring exec to stay on in any capacity.


So what can businesses – of any size – do to persuade that departing senior talent to stay around, at least for a while. How do they hang on irreplaceable knowledge and know how?


Hanging On


First of all, accept your employee is retiring. The decision to leave the workforce, especially at a career peak, is one of the most important, and sometimes most difficult, in life and, once taken, not likely to be reversed. However, there are ways to persuade a key employee to stay connected to the organization in some capacity. These include:


  • Consultancy. Many retiring professionals plan to start their own consultancy businesses so why not hang on to their knowledge, skills and experience by being their primary, or only, client? This works well for both parties as the individual gets to accept work when he or she wants it and the business has access to senior-level advice on demand.



  • Short-term contracts. These are perfect for retirees who want to remain connected to the professional world, keep contributing to the organization and stay mentally and socially engaged but who don’t want permanent employment. Contracts can cover short-term projects, seasonal work for snowbirds and avid travellers and can be as flexible as the organization and the employee want to make them.

Luckily for organizations, technology has made flexible work options much easier. People can now work from any location – even their condos down south or their boats in harbour — at any time of the day or night.  And Canadians like working. A recent Bank of Nova Scotia poll found that seven in 10 Canadians plan to keep on working after reaching retirement age, with 72 percent of those saying they want to remain mentally active and 57 percent wanting to stay socially connected.

It’s never been a better time for organizations to retain senior talent, knowledge and know how. Today, both employers and employees can have the best of both worlds.

Barbara Jaworski is the founder and CEO of the Workplace Institute, North America’s leading think tank on baby boomers in the workplace, and author two books on mature workers: KAA-Boom: How to Engage the 50-Plus Worker and Beat the Workforce Crisis; and Rebel Retirement: A KAA-Boomer’s Guide to Living and Creating an Explosive Second Act. Barbara founded the Best Employers Award for 50-Plus Canadians and is recognized as the nation’s leading expert on baby boomers in the workplace. She can be reached at