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Seven Ways to Effectively Manage Older Workers

Are you a Gen-X manager? Here’s how you can effectively communicate with and lead older generations.

By Ray Pelletier

Does your workplace suffer from a generational rift? If yours is like the majority of companies, the answer is yes. However, today’s pressing concern is no longer how to manage Generation X. Today’s biggest concern is how you as a Gen-X manager can effectively lead people your parents’ age.

One of the keys to understanding the generational differences that exist is to know what the four different generations are and some of the basic values each group holds. The authors of Generations at Work define them as:

  • Veterans: Born between 1922 and 1943, these people prefer face-to-face interactions with supervisors to email or voice mail, and they place a strong emphasis on teamwork.
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1960, they were raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity and progress. Most Baby Boomers grew up in two-parent households with safe schools, job security and post-war prosperity. Like the Veterans, they prefer face-to-face communication and value teamwork over individual achievement.
  • Gen-Xers: Born between 1960 and 1980, they were born into a rapidly changing social climate and economic recession. They grew up with both parents working, rising divorce rates, downsizing and the dawn of the high-tech and information ages. At work, they can be fiercely independent, like to be in control and want fast feedback.
  • Generation Nexters: This group was born between 1980 and 2000. They were born into our current high-tech, neo-optimistic times. They are the youngest workers, but they represent the most technologically adept. They are fast learners and tend to be impatient.

As a young manager, you can use the following tips to avoid a disconnect and miscommunication with older employees and gain their respect:

1. Be sensitive to emotional issues.
As a young manager, you need to be aware of what issues will upset your older employees. For example, if you have a Gen-Xer and a Veteran vying for the same promotion, and the younger employee gets it, the older employee may be upset. He will feel that the company wasn’t loyal to him. While the older workers realize that the younger workers may have excellent degrees, they question if the younger workers know what they’re doing.

When this happens, ask your older employees how they are feeling. Don’t say, “ I understand how you feel,” because they believe you cannot possibly understand how they’re feeling. By encouraging them to express their feelings, you’ll forge a greater understanding and respect between the generations.

You are satisfied with a thank-you or acknowledgement for something you did. However, your older employees will want recognition.

2. Realize that change is harder for older workers.
Older workers may be very set in their ways and resistant to change. For example, they may have trouble if you implement new systems or ask them to use new technology they’re not familiar with. To help them get over this, explain the “ why” of doing things. This opens up the lines of communication. Use this open communication as a way to reap the benefits of the insight your older employees can offer.


3. Understand and use the older worker’s preferred communication style.
As a young manager who grew up with the technology of computers, you probably prefer to communicate via email. However, your older employees prefer face-to-face communication. Older workers tend to view email as cold and not relationship-oriented. So regularly schedule face-to-face meetings with your older employees. Also, when you need to give them feedback, get up from your desk and walk over to them to give it. Or, pick up the phone and call them. The more human contact you give them, the more respect they’ll have for you.

4. Be coachable.
As a manager, you should be coachable and able to take information from your older employees without feeling threatened by them. Think of your older employees as internal consultants. Realize that they are valuable assets to your company because of their many years of experience.

5. Know the difference between recognition and appreciation.
As a member of one of the younger generations, you probably prefer to be appreciated rather than recognized. You are satisfied with a thank-you or acknowledgement for something you did. However, your older employees will want recognition. They want an outward sign of your appreciation, such as a plaque or an employee-of-the-month award rather than a simple thank-you. When you give your older employees the recognition they deserve, they will be very grateful.

6. Know your stuff.
Knowledge doesn’t just come from book smarts; it also comes from experience. You have to work harder to appear knowledgeable to your older employees because they don’t think you have enough experience. Knowledge is also one of the keys to creating trust. People respect people they like, but more importantly, they respect people they trust.

7. Ask great questions.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. Always be open to asking your older employees questions. When you ask questions, they will be less likely to think of you as an “arrogant know-it-all kid.” Also, when you ask questions, ask open-ended ones rather than yes or no questions. Use the magic of threes. For example, you could ask, “What are the three biggest challenges you are facing with this task?” Not only do you open the lines of communication, but you also show that you care about how they are doing on the job.

Ray Pelletier, CSP, founder and president of The Pelletier Group, is an internationally known business speaker, motivator, team builder and author of the upcoming book It’s All About Service. Contact him at 800-662-4625 or info@raypelletier.com.

 


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