Replacing a Retiring Employee

Matt Kelly —  February 22, 2012 — 1 Comment

Office WorkersHiring someone to replace a retiring employee is not an easy task.  Even though the employee is deeply embedded in your company’s operations, they can be replaced.  Don’t think that anything short of a replica will lead to catastrophe.

You aren’t going to find a clone walking out there and you will have to compromise on at least a few traits.  The replacement you hire will be a different person, perhaps from a different generation, and will have a totally different life story.  Ideally you will be able to find someone equipped with the base level skill set for the job and then train them. Beware of setting the bar too high – it is easier to train someone on particular skills than it is to change their values, intelligence, or work ethic.

If you know that the retiring employee will be around for a few months, integrate them into the hiring and training processes.  They have the experience to evaluate certain technical elements of the job along with day-to-day nuances that are unknown to you.

When hiring your retiree’s replacement, keep these items in mind:

  • Think of this hiring process as an opportunity.  Now is the time that you can think about establishing more explicit policies and procedures.  It is often the case that long-tenured employees rely heavily on tacit knowledge and experience, and it is likely that many technological and corporate changes have not been adopted in the past years.  Now you have the opportunity to make changes to entrenched practices and to clarify the expectations of the position.  Don’t be surprised if the incumbent resists these changes, as they may feel their way is “the best way.”
  • Don’t allow the retiring person to be too involved.  It’s easy to think of ourselves as irreplaceable, but some retiring employees set the bar so high that there is no one qualified or a right fit for the job. They have an emotional attachment to the position and might view the hiring process as a search for a personal successor.  Remember, you won’t find a clone out there. If you set your expectations and requirements for the replacement too high, you are setting yourself up for a painful experience.
  • Work closely with retiring employee to define the training process.  Their experience and knowledge is invaluable. A well-defined process can make the transition much smoother.  However make sure that the new employee cross- trains with other people as well so that they get a balanced view into the operations of your company.

Finally, evaluate yourself, understand your own biases and measure the extent to which you understand the position you are filling.  There are some powerful tools out there that help with this process such as benchmarking and position profiling.  It is never easy to replace a valuable employee. Aside from the challenges, you will also experience a unique opportunity to learn about and improve existing practices in the operations of your company.

Matt Kelly


Matt is one of our recruiters at NewHire, and has 7 years of experience helping businesses find the right new employee. He holds degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois, Chicago. Matt loves to explore the city and enjoy all its culinary and cultural wonders.

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