Avoiding communication pitfalls when managing a multi-generational workforce [webinar]
Watch the webinar “The New Multi-Generational Workforce.”
With more and more people working well into their 70s, being able to communicate across multiple generations is an essential skill for today’s young managers. It can be hard for young leaders to maintain respect and authority when managing their older team members in a multi-generational workforce.
So what is the best way for a young leader to communicate with their older employees so that they feel valued? What can a young manager do to motivate their more experienced workforce to move in a new direction? Employees of all ages, but especially those older than you, want to know that you respect their experience and opinions. It starts with communication, patience and listening.
Here are some common communication pitfalls that young leaders face and how to avoid them.
- Don’t question your own authority
Incorrect assumptions lie at the bottom of many of the common issues related to young leaders working with older or more tenured employees.
Don’t assume that older workers have an issue reporting to a younger boss. You earned your role as a manager by proving you are capable, so don’t waste time worrying about your authority. Confidently embrace your role and concentrate your time and efforts on directing your team.
Recognize that even when age is not an issue, it takes time to earn respect. By taking the time to know your team on a personal level, as well as professional, you will be able to build authentic relationships that foster an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
That said, if an older worker is defiant or not doing their job, address the issue as you would with any other worker. Be firm, focus on the facts and listen. Your difficult employee may simply need more time to adjust to a new process or have a genuine issue that needs to be resolved with your input.
- Don’t make unnecessary changes
Your tendency, as the new, energetic, gung-ho manager, may be to begin making changes right away; getting rid of the dust in the corners, so to speak. Keep that instinct in check while you get to know the history of why things are done the way they are.
Your older team members will appreciate being treated as a valued resource, so ask them to share their knowledge. Corporate tradition and maintaining a positive culture are important, to all generations.
You will also need to get comfortable with the idea that you don’t have to know everything. Being the boss means you know where to get good information to make solid decisions — which could very well come from your more seasoned employees.
No one wants to be managed by a know-it-all or work for a manager who overturns the system simply for the sake of change. Be ready to thoroughly explain any changes you implement. Likewise, be prepared to meet resistance with detailed explanations of why this change is necessary.
- Don’t engage in stereotyping
Don’t assume that some employees are more or less competent in certain areas, such as technology, simply because of their age. After all, your age doesn’t automatically convey an interest in the latest Twitter drama or Facebook rants.
Training is another area to double-check yourself. An older worker can be just as interested in learning something new as someone younger. In fact, an older worker may welcome the chance to do something different. On the flipside, don’t assume that your older workers don’t need additional training merely because they are older. Even though they may have a lot of experience, they don’t know everything. It is also important to treat employees consistently to avoid discrimination issues.
- Don’t dictate — motivate
Your key job as leader is to identify and respond to what motivates the employees on your team. Most of all, you should respect those motivations.
Remember that while you may be motivated by the chance to gain management experience or increased responsibilities, others may respond to a flexible schedule, maintaining their benefits, more creative freedom or a less stressful position.
Consider whether a more tenured employee can head up a campaign or project rather than you. This recognizes and uses the experience of the older employee and offers you more time to focus on management-related tasks.
Whatever the motivation, you need engaged, committed employees, and it’s your job to cultivate, understand and capitalize on their knowledge for the good of the company and the employee.
- Don’t ignore differences
People from different generations have differences – different perspectives, different communication preferences and different skills. Good managers understand this and embrace them.
For instance, baby boomers tend to like more face-time, even if they are tech savvy, and want their accomplishments recognized. Gen Xers tend to be more independent minded and appreciate the ability to manage their own time. Millennials want collaboration and the chance to grow and learn.
All managers need to be particularly sensitive to how confidential information, directions and criticism are delivered. Texts, email and social media cannot replace face-to-face interaction for these important categories of communication.
For more details about generational strengths and differences, read our post “Multigenerational Workforce: How to Bridge the Generation Gap.”
As in any situation, respect is earned through competence, fairness and respect given. Employees of any age respond to having their opinions valued and feeling like they are appreciated.
By establishing open communication with your employees of all ages you will motivate them to be the best they can be.