Navigating Looming Mass Retirements of Frontline Staff

Learn more about mitigating the impact of mass retirements across the frontline by encouraging high-value staff to delay retirement, and by capturing critical institutional knowledge and experience from older staff.

Executive Summary

For decades, the health care industry has operated with an older-than-average workforce. And now many organizations find themselves facing the very real risk of mass retirements across the front line. Use our research to encourage high-value staff to delay retirement and cost-effectively capture critical institutional knowledge.

A ticking time bomb

In 1980, the average age of a registered nurse was 40; in 2008, it was 47. By 2012, nearly half of registered nurses and physicians in the United States were over age 50. Further complicating matters, the recent recession and resulting financial uncertainty have led many older employees to delay retirement, creating a backlog of potential retirees.



This puts providers at risk for mass retirements across the front line—turnover that would leave frontline managers grappling with disruptive staffing gaps while simultaneously losing many of their most expert staff members. In HR departments, time lags and recruiting costs will increase as vacancies spike.


Retirements are inevitable, but spread them across time


We recommend that HR leaders take two primary steps to mitigate the effects of mass retirements. First, spread them across a larger window of time by encouraging high-value staff to delay retirement.

It’s unlikely that vacancies will be spread evenly across an organization, so begin by using our retirement risk appraisal tool to determine which departments and units face the greatest threat.

We also recommend offering late-career employees opportunities to shift roles or responsibilities and creating a phased retirement plan that allows valued employees to work reduced hours prior to full retirement. Fifty-six percent of employees over the age of 50 consider this an important option, but just 5% of organizations across all industries offer it.


Preserve critical institutional knowledge and experience


Organizations aren’t just concerned about losing FTEs; they also risk losing the invaluable institutional knowledge held by experienced employees. Successful organizations will take care to identify and record the nuances of highly specialized roles, and we’ve provided the tools needed to capture these critical details and job duties.

Wisdom Worker” shadowing programs also can help experienced staff members transfer their know-how to younger staff.

By reading this study, members will learn how to:

  • Identify departments or units most at risk of mass retirements
  • Encourage high-value staff to delay retirement
  • Transfer critical institutional knowledge and experience

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