Advice to my younger self – Three questions to ask retirees before they leave your organization, to prevent musculoskeletal disorders

Did you know that musculoskeletal disorders account for 36% of all work-related injuries? It’s the leading “nature” of injury, in nearly every occupation, according to Ontario statistics. As experienced workers retire, invaluable ergonomic strategies are being lost. Here’s how to capture that wisdom before it’s too late.

The Importance of Learning from Retirees

What could younger workers learn from more seasoned employees? It turns out, a lot. This article presents three questions that I urge you to ask of experienced workers before they leave your workforce.

We’ve been doing a lot of work in various sectors, identifying ergonomic work strategies. This process involves spending time with small groups of experienced workers, harvesting a list of tips and tricks that they’ve learned over the years, and then using biomechanical modeling to confirm and understand how they work. We’ve found that the most helpful workers are those who have a lot of experience, and especially those who have been injured and have learned how to avoid aggravating their lingering discomfort.

We’ve also learned that, in many occupations, it’s not common for new workers to be paired up with senior workers for training. You’d be surprised how often two older workers stand by and comment to each other about how the younger workers are probably going to get hurt if they continue to do the job the way they are now. Years of valuable experience that have been accumulated are lost when the retiree gets the golden watch. Sometimes these tricks are as simple as where to place the hands, or how to stand in a certain location where an object can be pushed forward instead of sideways. But if we don’t take the time to ask, and understand, then each worker has to figure these things out over the course of their career. If they last that long.

The Three Essential Questions

To start this process, we typically brainstorm a list of tasks that are physically demanding. (Of course, this process could also be used with cognitively demanding tasks.) Then we get participants to think about the little tips and tricks that they’ve learned that help them to do the job without hurting their muscles or joints. It’s important to keep the group focused on strain/sprain hazards (because they can easily get off-track) and to limit the discussion to things that are within their control. Sometimes it’s tricky to get them to open up, but usually they understand why this process is important, and giving them a few examples can open the floodgates.

Here are the three essential questions to ask retiring employees, to get this conversation started:

  1. What advice would you have for your younger self? (Or, if your daughter, granddaughter, or someone else whom you really cared about entered your profession, what advice would you give them?)
  2. What do you wish you had been taught when you first learned the job?
  3. What tricks have you learned over the years that make the job easier for you?

Implementing the Process in Your Organization

One of our clients hired us to identify ergonomic work strategies for wrenching tasks. We created practical, hands-on training that was based on the identified ergonomic work strategies, and that training was rolled out (in train-the-trainer format) for over 400 employees across the organization. In the 5 years prior to rolling out the training, MSDs accounted for an average of 55% of all injuries.  In the 5 years after the training, MSDs accounted for only 43% of all injuries. (Additional engineering changes were also made to the task during the 5-year post training period, but these were long term strategies that were not expected to have an immediate effect.) The number of MSD injuries associated specifically with this wrenching task was reduced by 65%.

If you work in a company that has a lot of retirement-aged workers, I urge you to use this process to ensure that ergonomic work strategies are passed down. If you want some help, let us know. We’re learning how to gather this information and how to disseminate it by creating effective microlearning modules.


By capturing and implementing ergonomic tips from retiring workers, companies can significantly reduce workplace injuries, increase productivity, and enhance worker satisfaction. Don’t let valuable ergonomic knowledge walk out the door. Start asking these questions today to create a safer workplace for everyone. For assistance in gathering and implementing ergonomic strategies, contact us for customized microlearning modules.



How can I effectively facilitate these conversations with experienced employees?

To effectively facilitate these conversations with retiring employees, it’s important to approach them with sensitivity and respect. Start with small focus groups in a comfortable setting where the employees feel at ease. Make it clear that their feedback is crucial for the ongoing safety and well-being of the organization. Use open-ended questions  like those above to encourage detailed responses and actively listen to their stories and advice. Ensure that the atmosphere is informal and non-judgmental, so they feel free to share openly.

How will I know if the transfer and use of ergonomic work strategies has been successful?

Aside from the example described above, there’s not a lot of hard evidence out there to show that harvesting ergonomics work strategies, and training other workers to use them, is effective. To that end, we’re integrating baseline and follow up surveys into our microlearning programs. We want evidence that this approach works, in a variety of work settings!

How can I ensure that this knowledge transfer is continuous and not just a one-time effort?

To ensure that the knowledge transfer from experienced workers is continuous and not just a one-time effort, consider establishing a structured mentorship program. Pair retiring or senior employees with newer workers on an ongoing basis, creating opportunities for regular knowledge sharing and hands-on training. Document the ergonomic tips and strategies in a centralized, easily accessible digital repository or manual. This resource can be updated regularly with new insights as they are gathered. Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and feedback within the organization will help maintain the flow of valuable information. Regularly scheduled workshops and training sessions where experienced employees can share their expertise with the broader team can also reinforce this culture. By embedding these practices into the organizational routine, you will ensure that ergonomic knowledge is continuously passed down and updated.

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