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May 4, 2021

Managing An Older Workforce As A Young Professional

As a young professional moving into management, there are a number of challenges you will face. One of them will likely involve leading individuals who are older than you are. That’s because there’s an increasing number of older people who want and need to continue working and fewer young people waiting in the wings to replace them. It’s the effect of increased longevity and lower birth rates.

The thought of managing someone old enough to be your parent or even grandparent may be daunting. However, it’s becoming increasingly common. A study commissioned by CareerBuilder.com found that almost four in every ten workers in the United States had a boss who was younger. Twenty-two percent of those workers reported to someone who was a few years younger, while 16% reported to someone who was younger by ten years or more.

If you’re now in charge of an older workforce, you need to be prepared for a number of things. First, you will have to confront your own biases. Even if you’re not conscious of it, you may associate mature workers with negative traits as much of society does. This can easily lead to discrimination, so it must be addressed quickly.

Also, you may be nervous about managing someone who has been in the workforce almost as long as you’ve been alive. Furthermore, you may get some pushback from individuals who resent having to report to a younger person. There’s also the likelihood that what motivates and engages younger employees won’t have the same impact on their older colleagues. Fortunately, none of these challenges are insurmountable, and we have some tips that will help you navigate this part of your career.

Get to Know Your Employees

Mature employees often feel like no one notices them. Make a point of talking to the older members of your team and getting to know them. When you know their individual goals, you can provide the support they need to achieve them. You’ll want to know a bit about them personally, but it’s even more important to get to know them professionally. Learn what they like about their job and where they see their careers going. Find out about the roles they served in the past. You may be surprised by what you find, and each of you may be able to learn from the other.

Pay Due Respect to Mature Workers’ Experience and Skills

Everyone wants their boss to recognize their contribution. However, it’s especially important for mature workers who’ve spent decades in their field. You’ll want to acknowledge their experience and indicate how you’ll leverage it at the earliest opportunity. Ask these workers for their opinions before you make big decisions or start complicated tasks. If you can’t take their advice, it may be helpful to explain why. Essentially, you want to treat experienced subordinates as partners without giving up control.

When older workers don’t feel valued, “the drift” can set in. This is when employees become so disengaged and unmotivated that their work suffers, and they eventually leave the organization. Given the tremendous value that experienced employees bring to the workplace, you definitely don’t want this to happen. 

Don’t Assume 50-Plus Employees Don’t Understand Modern Technology

Younger people often take it for granted that mature workers don’t use lots of technology. However, research shows that this isn’t the case. One study found that older people adopted technology at roughly the same rates as younger people, and they even felt less frustration and anxiety surrounding it. 

The research, which was commissioned by Dropbox, revealed that across the world, workers over the age of 55 used an average of almost five forms of technology each week. Meanwhile, those 18 to 34 years old used an average of 4.67 forms. Both age groups used laptops, tablets, and smartphones equally, but mature employees were more likely to use landline phones and fax machines.

Another report pointed out that mature employees were less likely to use texting, instant messaging, or Facebook for work purposes. While you may need to recommend that some of your 50-plus employees undergo additional tech training, you’ll need to approach this on an individual basis. Not all mature workers are the same.

Build Multigenerational Teams

You may be tempted to try to avoid discord by placing older and younger workers in different groups. However, research shows that putting multiple age groups to work together is more beneficial. Both mature and youthful employees are likely to perform better when they work together since they’re less competitive and more likely to help each other. Differences will arise, but they can be managed successfully, and you can reap significant benefits from a multigenerational workforce.

Investigate Before Making Changes

Every new manager sees things in the organization that they would like to change. However, you should use caution when attempting to try new things, especially if you’re new to the company. Find out why the status quo exists by talking to the individuals involved in the process. Older employees will likely have lots of insight into why things are the way they are. After this type of consultation, you may want to press ahead with certain changes while holding back on others.

Seek Help in Managing Your New Team

Managerial roles come with challenges that can be exacerbated by the multigenerational workforce. If you’ve been tasked with managing employees who are significantly older than you, you may feel a little nervous. However, with the right approach and professional support, you can build a harmonious,  productive team. WiseForce Advisors is here to provide the guidance you need at this time. Reach out to us at info@wiseforceadvisors.com to schedule a consultation and learn about how we can help you leverage the talents of mature employees.

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