By Chris Adams

Why do some companies maintain, value and benefit from their older workers – but others ease or shove them out?

It stems from a company’s individual culture, and how well it transfers its knowledge to younger workers while still keeping older ones happy.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Peter Berg of Michigan State University talked about the management practices that can help keep companies productive and employees satisfied.

Part of that deals with companies conducting regular skills assessments of their workers, as well as ongoing training and knowledge-transfer practices that take what the older workers know and find a way to transfer it to younger workers.

Human resources professionals call it “outflow delaying practices” (getting people to work longer), “inflow increasing practices” (hiring) and “outflow increasing practices” (pointing people toward the front door).

If the objective is maintaining a smart and productive workforce, a company needs to be smart itself.

“How do you keep people mentally engaged?” Berg asked. “Older workers want to be mentally engaged.”

Different strategies employed in other countries could help those in the U.S., even if they’re not now the norm – or even culturally acceptable – in the U.S. In Germany, for example, employees are able to tap more flexible work schedules than in the U.S. and are given income and savings incentives to phase out over years, rather than just going cold turkey on the workweek.

“It’s a system that is highly beneficial to the employer and employee,” he said.

Some companies do phased retirement arrangements but are explicit about what they get in return: “You can do phased retirement, but you will be engaged in knowledge transfer when you do it,” he said.