Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

I recently spoke with Trish Bharwada of The Dow Chemical Company. Trish manages My Dow Network, a web-based online membership service launched in 2007 that targets retirees and former employees of Dow. This is how the official news release describes My Dow Network:

The closed, online community allows users to expand their professional networks, renew old friendships, stay connected with the latest Dow information, and explore new job opportunities. It also keeps Dow connected to a larger talent pool, fuels collaboration and innovation, and facilitates a diverse and inclusive work environment.

Dow is targeting long-term employees who have retired or left the company. 5,000 out of 40,000 have joined the network so far. Initial services include news about the company as well as information about part time and full time job opportunities.

Trish says that these employees already have a history with the company and still have a “role to play with Dow.” Some are in a position to continue their involvement through part time or full time work with Dow that they learn about through the network, while others can assist by referring others to the company.

Eventually, Trish says, the network will incorporate “social networking” features such as forums and discussion groups that enable members to communicate and form relationships with each other.

My Dow Network, she says, is part of a Dow-wide effort to expand involvement in company affairs by all groups related to Dow, with groups and a variety of web based efforts focusing on company news, corporate events, job postings, gay/lesbian affairs, and other company related activities.

My Dow Network’s focus on retirees is part of Dow’s comprehensive plan to engage electronically with employees at all stages of their careers. Trish and I also discussed several issues that need to be addressed:

  • Some retirees have only dial-up web access. This places some restrictions on potential website functionality.
  • When considering expansion of the network to non-U.S. retirees, different rules and regulations regarding privacy and employee information need to be taken into account.
  • My Dow Network’s member recruits already have an existing set of expectations regarding Dow given their years of working there. This creates expectations for services and network features that may be different from younger or new recruits without a long Dow history.
  • Current hiring and HR managers still need to work out how best to integrate potential input from retirees, many of whom are very qualified technically for project and contract work.

When you think about it, extending corporate relationships with retired employees beyond mailed newsletters and pension checks has the potential for fundamentally altering important aspects of both career development and generational transition in the workplace.  If retiring workers are taking critical technical experience and insight with them when they do retire, “bringing them back in” via social networks that provide real mutual value could be one mechanism for helping younger workers “learn the ropes” from more experienced workers. Both sides could benefit, if this is handled properly.

In fact, this idea of generational “knowledge transfer” was what once attracted me to the use of social media and social networks as a way to transfer knowledge and experience from older to younger workers. Only time will tell if this becomes a commonplace practice, but systems like My Dow Network are showing the way.

  • To see a list of articles about social networking and retiring workers, click here

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