Problem employee nearing retirement?  Why not just wait for them to go?

I’ve heard this sentiment so many times.  A leader describes, to minute detail, an employee’s negative impact and then says something like, “They will be retiring in two years, just waiting for that day.”

Retirement Frustration

I get it.  Sometimes we choose not to address some issues.  Looming retirement may be one reason, but I’d argue even small improvements are worth the effort. As a leader, you will either spend the time on the front end addressing possible issues or much more time on the back end cleaning up the mess.

Near-Retirement Challenges: What to Do

Hint:  Telling other employees to just ride it out is not the right approach.

Before taking action, be sure to think about your role in whatever the issue is.  Is the person performing well, but you’d like to see more out of them?  Do you label them “resistant to change” only when it is one of your ideas they don’t like?  Are you offering opportunities for them to highlight their experience and contribute in meaningful ways? Is it possible that it is your attitude about older workers or age bias that is causing or contributing to the situation?

If behavior or poor performance rise to a level that needs to be addressed, how long a person has until retirement shouldn’t matter.  Have the conversation.  Start with the notion that the person you are talking to understands the context of the situation.  Do not talk to him/her in the same way you would a brand new employee.  In many cases, they know exactly what the issue is and when called on it are willing to fix it.  Don’t walk in with a solution in mind. Go in with the standard or outcome you expect and engage the employee in how to get there.

Things to Consider
–Do they have opportunities to use their experience and knowledge appropriately?
–Would they be a good mentor? (Hint:  Not everyone is.)
–What do they need that will keep them motivated and performing well?
–Is the role they are in the best fit for this point in their career?
–Are their team members who work well with them, keep them motivated, and are willing to play that role?

Something I’ve seen work with a couple near-retirement employees is bringing their legacy to the forefront.  This is a nearly last-ditch effort, but when used appropriately and sensitively it can be very powerful.  Do they want the comments made at their retirement party to be sincere?  Do they want their life total of work to be negatively impacted by their last couple of years of work?  Do they want to accomplish something specific before they retire?  This can frame performance differently for some and create an opportunity for growth.

One final thing to keep in mind.  Your other employees are watching.  What messages are you sending by what and when you choose to address sub-par performance or poor behavior?

Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes.  True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.  Create a unique adventure and training event for your team Leadership Giants at Giants Ridge, in Biwabik, MN.