In today’s workplace, we’re seeing a situation that frankly didn’t exist nearly as often only a few decades ago. Young executives are being tasked with managing older employees – sometimes old enough to be their parents or even their grandparents – as a difficult economy is pushing some older employees to delay retirement.

Having been in a leadership dynamic like this before, I understand initial apprehension. But while asserting authority across generations in the workplace may initially be awkward, with the right techniques, older employees can be some of your team’s strongest assets. In the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker, Wharton School of Business Management professor Peter Cappelli and former AARP CEO Bill Novelli showed that older workers in the workplace demonstrate exemplary job performance in a huge range of categories, including loyalty, reliability, patience, writing skills, leadership, organization, and problem solving skills.

As a Managing Partner, I know that these are skills I look for in my team members, regardless of age. Apply these three simple tips for managing older workers and watch your team flourish.

Be Confident.

When I was first tasked with managing older employees, I questioned my own abilities. Would they be more experienced and knowledgeable than I am? Would they accept my seniority? But I was made the boss for a reason and so were you. You have the vision, energy and ability to be a leader. Believe in yourself and communicate with authority. Doing so will go a long way in establishing the respect of your employees – regardless of age.

Solicit Feedback and Opinions.

Confidence can come across as cockiness if you don’t combine it with openness. Older employees have a unique perspective and a lot to share. There’s an inherent wisdom that comes from simply being in the business longer. Ask for their input regularly and value their opinions, even if you ultimately don’t take their advice.

Put in One-on-One Time.

Getting to know your employees is always important, and establishing a personal relationship with older employees is especially critical in the cross-generational workplace. Just as you may initially be uncomfortable managing older employees, these employees may also feel uncomfortable being managed by someone younger. I’ve also found older workers sometimes have deeply ingrained habits that are tough to change, and a personal rapport goes a long way in modifying those if necessary. Ultimately, spending one-on-one time with these employees will build mutual respect and understanding.

With these three sound management tenets, your team will find its groove in no time.

What advice can you share to help others navigate these management waters? I welcome your ideas.

Stephane Orts

Excellent subject, interesting experience guidance as well as a strategic reference to professor Peter Cappelli. Looking forward to go deeper into details with case-studies of companies facing such a challenge! Thank you David 🙂


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