The departure lounge - why should leadership care about and support their experienced professionals heading for it?

supporting experienced professionals

As part of the research for our new book From work life to new life – Reinventing retirement for Smart Professionals, my co-author, Mike Mister, and I found that when it comes to experienced professionals transitioning out of organisations in mid to later career, leadership are missing an opportunity to work with these individuals as they head for the departure lounge. It’s a huge opportunity missed!

Why is it an opportunity missed?

Historically, the organisational leadership might organise a leaving/retirement party with a parting gift for these experienced professionals. But they are not really valuing or seeing the point in investing in them as they head to the departure lounge and out the door.

These experienced professionals are frequently the holders of key client relationships, responsible for large revenues as well as leading teams who are reliant on their knowledge and experience. They have often spent long periods of their working life in the organisation and their leaving can have a big, frequently underestimated impact on the organisation.

So, what could an alternative approach(es) look like?

As the workforce in most of the Western world is ageing and we are living longer, experienced professionals are often keen to stay professionally active for longer rather than retiring in the traditional sense. And indeed, we would advocate for this on the grounds that having clarity of purpose through a fulfilling encore career* can be a critical part of healthy longevity for individuals. Now more than ever in light of the pandemic and the great resignation, experienced professionals are leaving organisations. However, experienced professionals frequently struggle to know how to approach this transition and organisations are ill-prepared and not inclined to support them.

This is exactly where leadership can play a critical role. Supporting their experienced professionals to move on successfully and smoothly into their encore whether they want to set up businesses, retrain, take on advisory or board work or pursue personal interests – to name but a few of the opportunities out there. By supporting them to transition into fulfilling encores, leadership is not only creating goodwill, but the opportunity for reciprocity and so much more.

The sorts of organisational support we have seen work well include short programmes (hybrid or in-person ideally) potentially reinforced with one to one or group coaching.  And there is lots of scope to be creative and bold.

Why should organisations do this? Surely, it’s the responsibility of the individual!

In our experience and based on our research, it can be summarised in what kind of Ambassadors do leadership want to create in these experienced professionals as they transition out of the organisation?

We have identified four categories of Ambassadors amongst those senior leavers:

Apathetics – these experienced professionals who could be a real asset to the organisation but feel ambivalent about their experiences, especially how they are treated as they head out the door. Oftentimes, they are not sure whether or how to act as an Ambassador for the organisation and organisations frequently forget about them as soon as they have left. In our experience, this is by far the largest group.

Assassins – these experienced professionals openly share how badly they feel they have been treated on exiting the organisation (even if the many years prior to leaving have been rewarding and fulfilling). They make their mission to ensure the organisational reputation suffers.

Attackers – these individuals who, when provoked, will share their views on what they perceive to be the negative treatment as they headed out of the organisation. This is a potentially powerful group of allies who could become powerful Ambassadors just like the Apathetics.

Advocates – this is really what you want your experienced professionals to be! Having supported them into and through the transition out of the departure lounge, they are actively advocating for the organisation and its leadership wherever possible. Sharing in a positive way their experiences, connecting and supporting the organisation and its leadership and staff long after they have left themselves.

By creating Ambassadors who act as advocates upon leaving, organisations are creating virtuous circles rather than vicious circles!

If this is potentially sounding expensive and onerous, based on our experience, the virtuous circle offers huge benefits to the organisation and its leadership. It adds adding real value – both in kind and financial – to the bottom line. The vicious circle as we sadly see all too often is destructive and costly ultimately to leadership and the organisation.

We recognise these are difficult conversations to have both from an organisational as well as an experienced professionals’ perspective. However, by being brave and taking a lead in the discussion leadership can make a real difference.

If you think your organisation could do with some help to work through the issues raised in this article and supporting experienced professionals, we would love to hear from you! You can get in touch with Rebecca using the Contact Page on this website. 

*encore career – is the phrase we have used in our book to summarise the life stage that many experienced professionals enter after leaving organisational life rather than heading into traditional retirement.

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