Organizational Exits

I had breakfast yesterday with an old friend and client who is a government executive. We were talking about people we knew, many of whom had retired in the past few years. She was sad and disappointed to report that, although they had left voluntarily, many were resentful, feeling like they were tossed out and no longer needed. As we talked, I realized how seldom we take the time to manage the retirement process in large organizations in such a way that retirees feel acknowledged, appreciated and thanked for their years of service.

It seems to me a shame (and in some ways inexcusable) that someone who has given thirty or more years of their life to an institution should end their career with little more than a wine-and-cheese reception mostly attended and paid for by personal friends. I say this not only from the human point of view, but also from the practical. Retirees are a major source of conversations about the ‘way it is’ in the organization they leave behind. They either promote the organization or become harbingers of ill will. Any organization that recognizes its people as individuals and is sensitive to them as human beings will be practicing values that build trust, inspire people to give their best and create a positive morale. Organizations concerned with their public image are foolish to not do everything in their power to have alumni retire with dignity, fully recognized and proud of the value they added to society throughout their careers. Obviously, this will promote good public relations as well as enhance their recruitment capacity.

The demographic weight of the Boomers is also creating a new kind of problem for many organizations—a strategic one. With so many people retiring or approaching retirement in more or less the same timeframe, organizations need to advance younger managers faster than traditional learning curves require. This can result in technically competent individuals taking on senior roles without the maturity, experience and ethical foundations of their predecessors. What is lost in this overwhelming wave of retirement won’t even be evident until the older generation has gone. Without positive continuing relationships between alumni and new managers, what is lost will never be recovered. But if the organization commits to the value that senior employees add through a well-managed strategy for empowering individuals as they retire, these retirees can maintain relationships with their successors that transcend the event of retirement. This opens up the possibility for senior employees to make ongoing contributions to the next generation.

Today’s Public Service leaders must demonstrate that a career in government can be wonderful and satisfying. Their actions—how they treat their employees during their working years and throughout the process of completing their careers—speak louder than words. Retirees deserve more than just an administrative exit process. They deserve a ‘thank you’, recognition from the highest levels, and appreciation from the general public. We do this to some degree for our soldiers. Why not for those who maintain and protect all the other aspects of our society and who contribute so directly to the quality of our lives in so many ways?

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