Older Workers And Legacy Projects


Have you got an employee on your team nearing retirement who strikes you as stagnant? An individual that appears to be just playing out their remaining days, isn’t contributing the way you feel they should; someone who isn’t truly invested in their work? Well that certainly is a problem, but perhaps for reasons you might not suspect.

For starters, it’s essential to note that if that person has been in your organization for a long time, it is likely that there was a time when they were more productive than they appear today. Now while that productivity has dropped off, they still have cumulative experience, expertise and wisdom that could and should be accessed and tapped into before they retire and take it with them.

In order for an organization and its employees to benefit from this individual moving forward, why not give them a legacy project? A legacy project as I term it, is shifting their focus slightly; adding to their days some time to produce something that will stay behind when they leave that could be valuable in their absence.

I think one of the key things to understand with an older more mature worker, is that they themselves experience shifts in their working environment and for many, they perhaps come to a time when they feel less valued and appreciated. Younger workers, perhaps in their 30’s – early 50’s, have more vitality, more energy and this manifests itself through innovation and creativity; looking at doing things differently and better. That of course is a natural process for people to undertake, but the older worker who doesn’t feel that same desire to learn and apply new ways of doing things may still be holding on to ‘the old ways’. The old ways as it turns out, may be the very things they themselves introduced as new once upon a time. It’s this ownership of what is being left behind that may make them feel less appreciated and undervalued.

If your workplace is ripe with people happy to transition from what was good once to something new that is better, it’s not universally easy for everyone to shift their perspective and ‘get on board’ with the new processes. Some employees – both young and old – might need more support and encouragement to learn new systems, software, procedures or practices.

It may not be that the older worker nearing retirement is stubborn; it could be that because they feel their years of experience and skills are not being acknowledged, they are in some way carrying forth a bitterness that causes them to resist what they perceive as yet another step away from what they know. When people are forced to transition to something new and they don’t have the self-motivation to move in that direction, they can experience resentment. This resentment might end up being directed at the people driving the change; as if it is they who are threatening their way of doing things.

It’s the older worker who may have written the employee manuals, workshop materials, orientation packages, production guides of the past. When someone else is designated to re-write these publications, or worse yet, volunteers to re-write these publications, this initiative can be misread as not respecting the previous ones and the people who produced them; i.e. the older worker who lately seems to have an attitude problem, is resistant to learning, fights change at every step, and appears locked in the past.

A legacy project may be the one thing that this older worker may be uniquely qualified to do above everyone else because they have been there as all along the way as change occurred and things evolved. So that the former ways don’t get lost when they leave, it may be useful to record the past so that it becomes a documented treasure. This kind of project acknowledges their past as being something of value, and gives them a purpose in the present of value.

Now not all older workers nearing retirement experience this resistance to change or a drop in productivity. We must be fair however and agree however that there are some workers who are not as open to change as they once were. These people might feel their opinions are not valued as much as they should be; their ideas aren’t listened to with respect the way they feel they should be, and this can lead to disharmony in the workplace. To do nothing, to brand the person as a problem or a stick in the mud, might be the wrong approach.

Another idea might be to encourage that individual to produce something new as an update of what they produced in the past themselves. This could require some research, including technological changes that have come about since the previous document or program was created. This combining of the old with the new both acknowledges the contribution they could uniquely make and still requires them to be knowledgeable about present trends, best practices etc.

When was the last time you told the older worker they were a valuable member of your team? And should you yourself be the older worker feeling less appreciated, when was the last time you told someone driving the change that you appreciate their desire to make things better – as you once did yourself?

There’s tremendous value locked in the memories and experiences of senior staff; value that shouldn’t leave an organization when they do.

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2 thoughts on “Older Workers And Legacy Projects

  1. Interesting read – and I agree. I have even witnessed long term employees being a little lackadaisical, and unenthusiastic with new co-workers. Perhaps they fear change, or fear being challenged, or even being replaced – thus unwilling to share their expertise and knowledge even though they are a part of an existing team. I suggest that one “legacy project” be that of supporting newer employees on the team at work (mentoring to success), with the employers support and encouragement because ultimately this will result in better morale and more productivity. ( whether that new employee is young or old in comparison – eliminate age discrimination)

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