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How to Lead an Older Workforce
“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” – George Orwell
Intergenerational conflict is part of everyday life. It can be present in our family, in our day-to-day social interactions, and in the workplace.
Some organizations have developed effective ways to manage their in-house intergenerational mix. Others are struggling to address the needs of employees belonging to different generations.
Successful companies are masters at bridging the generational gap in their workforces.
As baby boomers inch toward retirement, it falls to Generation X to step up and take over management, production, and sometimes senior leadership. “Taming” the intergenerational mix within your organization is, therefore, not optional.
As a leader, how do you bridge the generational gap and lead an older workforce to success? What leadership skills do you need to accomplish this objective?
Throw Out Your Preconceptions and Curb Your Ageism
Defined as negative or positive discrimination based on chronological age, ageism is the most common form of discrimination. Unlike sexism and racism, it can affect anyone who lives long enough.
In the workplace, young people tend to nurture various ageist stereotypes and assumptions toward their more senior colleagues. As a leader, you must defeat such thoughts and treat your senior reports the same way you would treat any other individual on your team.
Pay Attention to the Substance and Style of Your Communication
Communicate concisely and clearly with your older employees. Do not assume that since they are more experienced, they will know what your expectations are.
Earn their trust through your style of communication.
- Ask for advice and input. Experienced workers always have something to share with those willing to listen. Do not just pretend to listen. Really listen and make use of the feedback they give you. This way, you involve them and place due value on the experience they bring to the table.
- Make sure that you communicate from a position of strength and competence. Do not undermine your interaction/communication by asking for direction outright. At the same time, be open-minded and receptive to your reports’ insights and ideas.
- Encourage younger members of your team to learn from the experiences of your older reports. Using senior employees as in-house mentors can provide a lot of value for your organization and act as a cornerstone of your leadership development efforts.
As I have pointed out in my book, Talent Leadership, the quality, depth, and effectiveness of communication by leadership is the key to having an engaged workforce.
Train, Motivate, and Empower Your Older Employees
Some leaders are reluctant to invest in the training and motivation of their older workforce. That is a mistake you must avoid.
Continuously train and motivate your older employees.
Your older employees need just as much training and they need it just as often as the youngsters in your workforce. They may need training in different expertise areas, but they do need it, and they are as receptive to it as your younger subordinates.
Use recognition and praise as your primary tools of motivation. Recognize the fact that your older employees likely respond to different motivational stimuli than your younger workers.
Recognize and Address the Security Needs of Senior Employees
Older people in your workforce need better financial planning and health coverage. Make sure to cover such needs through your organization’s benefits plan.
In addition, be aware of the factors that can cause your older workers to resist your leadership.
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, some of this resistance and/or fear-triggering factors include:
- A defensive reaction on the part of the leader when a more experienced employee questions his or her decisions.
- The perception that the leader thinks he or she knows more than an older employee.
- The leader’s willingness to favor younger employees.
- The leader’s assumption that older employees cannot handle technology.
Maintaining age-related diversity in your workforce can create many benefits for your organization. These benefits cover better discipline, better delegation, increased productivity, as well as improved leadership development.