Mentoring and the Transfer of Organizational Memory within the Context of an Aging Workforce: Cultural Implications for Competitive Advantage

Mentoring and the Transfer of Organizational Memory within the Context of an Aging Workforce: Cultural Implications for Competitive Advantage

Annette H. Dunham (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) and Christopher D.B. Burt (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch817

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Introduction

“A survey of human resources directors by IBM last year concluded: “When the baby-boomer generation retires, many companies will find out too late that a career’s worth of experience has walked out the door, leaving insufficient talent to fill the void…”

Special Report: The Ageing Workforce, Economist, February 18th-24th, 2006 (p.61)

In many countries, people are retiring earlier than ever before and the retirement of the baby boom generation (born 1946-1964) over the next two decades signals a decline in the working populations of many developed countries. Accompanying this trend is the potential loss of organizational memory, and the subsequent loss of competitive advantage. When employees retire from an organization, it may be straightforward to replace their job-related knowledge, skills and abilities; but it is much more difficult to replace the organization and industry related knowledge gained from experience.

The aging workforce phenomenon has generated a number of publications in the human resource management literature. These are aimed at helping organizations encourage older employees to work for as long as possible, together with suggestions on how to effectively harness the knowledge, skills and abilities of the older worker (e.g. Critchley, 2004; DeLong, 2004; Hankin, 2005; Hedge, Borman & Lammlein, 2006; Lahaie, 2005). Some specifically address the threatened knowledge management crisis that may accompany the loss of experienced workers (e.g. DeLong, 2004). These writers also tend to consider mentoring in organizations as a way of both ensuring vital knowledge transfer while also accomplishing the continued engagement of older workers who will feel valued for their expertise and knowledge. It is seemingly a win-win approach for all concerned.

Underlying this perspective are several assumptions:

  • 1.

    The ability to create, identify, capture and transfer organizational memory equates to competitive advantage for companies.

  • 2.

    Older workers have valued knowledge and experience, and are significant repositories of organizational memory.

  • 3.

    Older workers are particularly amenable to passing on their knowledge to others in the organization.

  • 4.

    Older workers anticipate, and are more likely to experience, positive outcomes from mentoring others.

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