Ignoring a significant age difference between you and your older employees may work for a little while, but eventually you’ll need to address this growing, though tricky, workplace issue. Still, you can bridge the age gap without jeopardizing productivity or morale.
You may be known as the “young whippersnapper” or part of that “Generation X,” but what’s most important is your reputation as a good manager. Here are eight proven ways for successfully managing your older employees:
- Don’t get defensive. It’s probably the most common initial response, but becoming defensive won’t get you anywhere. You’ll appear weak, immature, and unprofessional. If an older worker references the age difference in a disparaging way, try first to understand where the remark is coming from — why it was said and what you can do to ameliorate the situation.
- Lose the know-it-all attitude. If you want your employees to show you respect, then do the same for them. Acting as if you know more than anyone, however, will not engender respect. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean that you have all the answers. Sometimes effective management simply means knowing where to go for the answers. Instead of dismissing your older employees’ points of view, tap into their range and breadth of experience. They’ll see you as a listener who values their opinions. You might even want to consider assigning them as mentors to younger employees.
- Listen. A constant talker is closely related to the know-it-all. If you’re always yakking at your people, they will eventually stop listening. It’s essential that you force yourself to become a good listener. Older employees are adept at spotting great pretenders, those who tend to do a lot more talking than listening. Remember, a good leader carefully reads a situation and then takes appropriate action. No one ever learned anything from talking, but listening? That’s the best teacher.
- Cultivate a team spirit. Miraculously, teams often transcend age. That is, when you create a group whose mission it is to collaborate toward a common goal, it doesn’t matter how old your workers are. As the team leader, your job is to motivate and create an environment of learning. Treat everyone equally and fairly and you will likely notice a surge in participation and enthusiasm.
- Establish clear expectations. Everyone works more effectively when they know what is expected of them. Therefore you must be willing to communicate your expectations clearly and with respect. Likewise, encourage your older workers to communicate with you on a regular basis. Show them how to resolve conflicts in an open and honest fashion, something they may not be accustomed to. Encourage them to initiate and take responsibility for conversations about job and career moves within the company.
- Be inclusive. This is especially important when it comes to technology. Just because older workers remember the days before computers doesn’t mean they’re exempt from learning new technology. Ensure that all your employees are trained on new software and office equipment. And insist that everyone participates in training and development. Never allow employees to opt out because they’re “too old.”
- Be flexible. Retention is key when it comes to successfully managing older workers. Consider options like flextime, part-time work, seasonal, contract, even phased retirement. You might help a worker set up a home office, too.
- Review your compensation practices. What motivates older employees is often different than what motivates their younger counterparts. For them, some benefits are more meaningful than others. Find out what will make these employees more effective and happy (such as more time off versus monetary rewards).