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Preserving knowledge from the senior worker in the era of the aging workforce: the Japanese case

Woelders, Johannes (2011) Preserving knowledge from the senior worker in the era of the aging workforce: the Japanese case.

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Abstract:Research Purpose The impact of an aging workforce is beginning to be felt globally, and in particular, in the developed countries. One of the implications of an aging workforce is the possibility that large scale retirements may lead to an unrecoverable loss of knowledge. Many senior workers have built up a lot of experience and organizational know-how, and therefore, they will need to share their knowledge with others or with the organizational memory system in order to avoid a possible loss of knowledge and to keep the knowledge level of the organization in balance. Japan is, compared to other developed countries, experiencing the most rapid aging of the entire population, and thus its workforce is projected to be rapidly aging as well. Therefore, in order to increase our understanding, it is expected that research on the methods and practices which are being used by senior workers in Japan to share knowledge will allow other firms, who are coping with similar challenges, to reflect on their own knowledge sharing practices. Hence, the intention of this research is to see if firms in Japan are aware of the aging processes, and which methods and techniques these firms use to let the baby boom generation share their valuable knowledge before they retire en masse. Methodology The nature of this study is both quantitative and qualitative, and has predominantly a descriptive character. A semi-structured questionnaire, with open and closed questions, has been chosen to gather data and information among 55 Japanese firms and institutions. In addition, the open questions in the semi-structured questionnaire also allow this study to approach a more explorative character. In addition to the questionnaire, a follow-up e-mail with an open question has been send in a later stadium. Findings The senior workers of the respondent firms use the following methods and techniques to share their knowledge with their younger successors: mentoring (52,7%), training (45,5%), storytelling (41,8%), information/expert systems (9,1%), after-action reviews (9,1%), communities of practice (5,5%), orientation period (5,5%), and expert interviews (3,6%). In 29,1 percent of the cases the respondent firms use a method, technique or procedure other than the ones found at first sight in the academic literature, such as nomunication; role as advisor or external consultant; job rotation systems; and manuals or guidebooks. Overall, the senior workers of the participant firms seem to be using mentoring, training, and storytelling most frequently to share knowledge with their younger co-workers, regardless of size and industry. Additionally, one can state that there seems to be a relatively high level of awareness about the demographic projections among the respondent firms in Japan. Lastly, non-Japanese firms should be aware of the influence of the Japanese context on the findings here, and rather see the findings as a prism, through which own practices can be observed and reflected upon. Limitations/Recommendations There are several reasons why the results of this study have to be interpreted with certain wariness: a lack of multiple perspectives per respondent firm; perspectives of managing directors and HR managers possibly allow for social desirable answers rather than realistic input; the absence of scales (e.g. Likert scales) hinders providing an indication about the popularity per method or technique; and in order to collect relevant data the respondent firms were purposively sampled in such a way that at least 5 percent of the firms workforce is aged 50 and older, and that they were expected to have methods or techniques (specifically) in place for senior workers. Additionally, future research is desirable to see under which circumstances certain knowledge sharing methods and techniques would be most effective. Further, it is desirable to turn the roles of Western and Japanese firms in a similar study, and to see if Japanese firms could learn something from the West. Keywords Tacit and explicit knowledge; Knowledge preservation; Knowledge sharing; Methods and techniques; Seniors; Older workers; Baby-boom generation; Japan
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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