Managing Across the Generational Divide: Dealing with Older Workers

by Kathryn Hawkins

2 min read

There are plenty of great reasons to hire older workers, but you might be naturally hesitant to put someone your dad’s age on the payroll. Chances are, you feel a little strange being “the boss” to someone with decades more working experience than you have. And likewise, how can you be sure that he’ll respect your authority? Managing older workers may be a difficult adjustment, but these tips will help the integration process go smoothly.

Don’t give in to stereotypes about what an older worker can and can’t do. You might assume that an over-50 employee won’t have a clue how to administer your small business’ Facebook page, but that may not be the case at all: One in every five adults between 50 and 64 who use the internet check into social networking sites every day, according to a Pew Research Center report. Don’t give into age-based biases: When interviewing a candidate or working with a new employee, focus on getting to know him on an individual level so you’ll have a better sense of his working style and capabilities.

Ask them to participate in skill training sessions. In some cases, older workers may be reluctant to participate in career development programs to update their skills. If a certain tool or program has worked for them for years, they see no need to switch things up. Don’t let them off the hook, though: In order to build a thriving business, it’s important that all of your employees are up-to-date on the quickest and most efficient ways to fulfill their job duties.

Make sure that they know they can address problems with you. Most older workers are accustomed to an old-school, deferential work environment in which they’re expected to refer to their boss by a title instead of a first name. They may be used to keeping their mouth shut about problems they’re having on the job — which often leads to even more problems. Be sure to tell your older employees that the rules have changed, and that you welcome their feedback regarding problems or potential improvements within the business. In some cases, they may prefer to email you about their issues, so make sure they know that’s an option, too.

Discuss their future plans. Workers in their 50s and 60s are likely on the path towards retirement, but they will often want to continue working part-time to increase their income streams and stave off boredom. Discuss your older employees’ retirement plans, and find out if and when they’d like to scale back their hours. Don’t make assumptions based on age: Some workers in their 60s have no plans to cut back to part-time, and, if they’re still able to perform the job well, there’s no reason you should encourage them to do so.

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