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Retain older workers beyond retirement

BusinessWeek covers a best practice in a topic of growing importance: how large companies can retain older workers in productive ways beyond a set arbitrary retirement age.

Issue: Retiring Employees, Lost Knowledge (Business Week)
A pilot program at American Express gives soon-to-be retirees less work and more time to pass along their expertise to younger generations

– “Before long, the group made an important discovery: Not only would a huge number of employees become eligible for retirement in the next five to 10 years, the company had done little to retain the wealth of institutional knowledge they would be taking with them. From the intricacies of key client relationships to mainframe computer languages no longer being taught in school, many experienced workers possessed critical know-how that, if lost, would be costly—if not impossible—for the company to replace.”

– “These parameters helped shape the American Express phased-retirement program, an initiative launched in pilot mode during the first quarter of 2008. Rather than retiring and leaving the company at once, participants gradually give up their day-to-day responsibilities, while replacing some of their free time with activities like mentoring and teaching master classes to their successors. In addition, they get more time out of the office doing whatever they want—be it planning for life in retirement or doing charity work. The phased retiree continues to receive a portion of his previous salary, benefits as usual, and the company in turn gets to hold on to some of its most valuable employees a year or more past traditional retirement age.”

Comment: beautiful initiative. For an increasing number of workers, there is no real hard reason why retirement must happen at some arbitrary date, be it 60 or 65. American Express is looking for a win/ win arrangement, including coverage of very important health benefits.

For context on how older workers can remain productive in areas where they have accumulated significant experience, let’s revisit some of the notes of my recent conversation with researcher Art Kramer:

Alvaro Fernandez: In any case, your study reinforces an important point: older brains can, and do, learn new skills.

Art Kramer: Yes. The rate of learning by older adults may be slower, and they may benefit from more explicit instruction and technology training, but, as a society, it is a massive waste of talent not to ensure older adults remain active and productive.

Another recent study we conducted, this one still under review, is titled Experience-Based Mitigation of Age-Related Performance Declines: Evidence from Air Traffic Control. It deals with the question: “Can Age Itself Be an Obstacle for someone to perform as an Air Controller? And the Answer is: age itself, within the age range that we studied, is not an obstacle. Our results suggest that, given substantial accumulated experience, older adults can be quite capable of performing at high levels of proficiency on fast-paced demanding real-world tasks.

PS: reader Catherine just helped us see and fix a typo in this post…thank you, Catherine!

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