Overcoming the ‘demographic cliff’
Philips’ rapidly ageing workforce presented one such problem. After company data revealed that 50% of its engineers were over the age of 55, Ryan turned his attention to finding ways to prevent the huge loss of technical expertise and client connections that the impending retirement of numerous experienced engineers threatened to bring about.
“We put together a program that offered late-career employees the opportunity to sit down with external, trusted advisors and critically evaluate their paths to retirement, and then work with Philips to meet those objectives,” says Ryan. “Bringing in the advisors helped to challenge the idea that these employees would simply stop working at 65.”
For Philips, the aim was to encourage long-term employees to extend their working life by dropping down to part-time hours. If enough engineers did so, it would free up the necessary funds for the company to set up a graduate engineer program while crucially retaining the experienced engineers’ knowledge and expertise. The extra free time, Philips argued, would also give the long-term employees more opportunities to pursue non-work related interests and take a graduated approach to retirement.
But broaching the topic of retirement with long-term employees wasn’t straightforward for Ryan. Many were initially dubious about his intentions.
“The first iteration didn't land as well as I'd hoped. So, I went to members of the Philips Retired Persons Association about what I was trying to achieve, and this idea of “leaving a legacy” popped out of my mouth,” says Ryan. “It really resonated with them. They were inspired by the idea of having a lasting impact on the company.”
The experience taught Ryan that managing change often boils down to telling the right story, and doing so in a respectful manner.
Referred to as the ‘Life Options’ program, the strategy convinced numerous long-term engineers to help train their eventual replacements, while slowly reducing their working hours over time. It wasn’t just Philips employees who were impressed; Ryan’s solution to what many have called the ‘demographic cliff’ also won over Human Resources Director (HRD) magazine, which subsequently listed Philips as having one of Australia’s most innovative HR teams in 2018.
As HRD magazine, the WGEA and Ryan’s colleagues will attest, it’s an approach that’s delivered results, significant improvements that unsurprisingly provide Ryan with a source of great pride.