Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old or Seasoned?

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with people of all ages. One thing I have noticed, however, is the work force is aging. Some are closer to retirement than others. In fact, one thing a manager needs to learn is how to motivate and manage the talent pool regardless of the age of the employees. The manager needs to take the lead and create a climate in which all workers will remain productive and engaged. Here are a 10 tips to managing the generational gap.

1. Throw out all assumptions. The older worker is not necessarily the harder worker or more difficult to train. Each employee is an individual and should be treated as such.

2. Remember the range of ages. A 21-year old directly out of college requires different guidance than the seasoned 35-year old. The 15 year gap is no less important for the older workers. A worker at 55 and 70 have different goals and needs. As a manager, you may need to look at groups getting ready to retire (55-62), retirement age and still working (62-70), and older worker who wants to keep active or who needs to work (70+). Each group presents different management challenges.

3. Communication cannot be over-emphasized. Never assume the older worker knows what you expect of them. They do not have the same background as you. The importance of clear communication never changes. Saying, “Bill, take care of that for me” is not enough. Explicitly state what the measurements of completion and success will be.

4. Value life experience. The older worker has been around. They have seen a lot. They have done a lot. Recognize the value of their experience and learn from it. Encourage the younger members of the team to learn from it. Lessons from the “school of hard knocks” are invaluable.

5. Training and Guidance. Older workers need training as much as younger workers – just as much, just as often. The subject of the training may be different but the need is the same. Do not believe that older workers cannot be trained. They are just as receptive as their younger peers.

6. Security. Older workers probably need benefits more than the younger workers. They need medical coverage, vision care, and financial planning. Make sure your company’s benefits plan meets their needs too.

7. Motivation. Any manager’s key job is to motivate their employees. Older workers have different motivational “hot buttons” than do the younger employees. Opportunity for advancement is probably less important than the recognition of a job well done.

8. You don’t have to “be the boss”. The older workers grew up in a hierarchical society. They know you are the boss. Most of them were bosses at some point too. Get on with leading the department and don't waste time posturing. It won't impress them anyway. They've seen it all before.

9. Be flexible. Your older workers, depending on age group (see #2 above) may want flexible hours or a shorter work week. For those of them that need that, be willing to be flexible. You need their talent and technical skill so do what you need to to keep it available. Do not, however, assume that all older workers want to go home early. Some may be motivated by working the same long, hard hours that they have always done.

10. Use them as mentors. Let them coach and encourage the younger workers. Most older workers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they would love to pass on. Give them the opportunity to do so and your entire organization will benefit.