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Less experienced workers can act as catalysts for unlocking the knowledge base of retiring workers

Burmeister A, Deller J.  Knowledge retention from older and retiring workers: What do we know, and where do we go from here?  Work, Aging and Retirement. 2016; 2(2): 87-104.

Review question

What current methods of conceptual knowledge retention are used in the workforce and what will be the impact of the aging population?


The aging population will present challenges for employers to retain and transfer valuable organizational knowledge to future generations.

Although critical knowledge is a competitive advantage in today’s economy, methods and strategies for retaining knowledge from retired workers is not well researched or understood.

The purpose of this review was to investigate the existing literature on knowledge retention, with a specific focus on knowledge, individuals, relationships and contextual characteristics. In addition, the review addressed relevant theories and proposed relationships that support the development of a knowledge-retention conceptual framework.

How the review was done

A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 2000 to 2015 was conducted. Studies that focused on the aging workforce and knowledge retention were included in the review.

A total of 74 studies were identified in searches, and 28 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

The authors did not acknowledge any funding sources for this review.

What the researchers found

The studies included in the review revealed that retaining knowledge from retired workers depends on the successful transfer between individuals, such as the knowledge sender, or the retiring worker, and the knowledge recipient, or the employee who remains with the organization.

Knowledge retention has also been identified as a reciprocal process. The less experienced workers can act as catalysts for unlocking the knowledge base of the retiring worker.

While the knowledge of retiring workers, both explicit and tacit, is valuable for the organization, tacit knowledge is more complex, personalized and more challenging to transfer, thus more important during knowledge transfer.

In addition, the studies included in the review highlighted the importance of individual motivation to share knowledge, as well as the trustworthiness between employees who share such information, in promoting knowledge-retention effectiveness.


The studies included in the review identified factors related to the type of knowledge, individual characteristics such as motivation, and the quality of employee relationships to influence the knowledge retention capacity of an organization when workers retire. The literature on knowledge retention is limited. Further investigation to identify a broader scope and more detailed understanding of knowledge retention from older and retiring workers, particularly with regards to age-related sensitivity and individual motivation, is recommended.

Related Topics

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