As a result of aging populations, extended working into old age and delayed retirements, we are living in an unprecedented era with four generations of employees working side by side. These are: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Veterans. What we are also seeing is the rise of the young entrepreneur, which is basically millennials and early generation X starting up their own businesses.
The convergence of these two trends is creating a new kind of workplace conundrum, where increasingly younger managers are finding themselves in the position of managing older workers, or perhaps recruiters are having to place younger workers into such roles.
We, of course, know that this shouldn’t matter, but it does; there’s an innate tension in the relationship between a younger manager and older subordinate, built on the belief (not reality), that younger workers cannot manage older workers effectively.
And since more and more workers will find themselves in situations where they are managing older workers and more and more recruiters may find themselves placing younger workers into roles managing older workers, I thought I’d pull together a few tips on how younger workers can manage older workers more effectively.
They aren’t from Mars
Younger workers shouldn’t fear older workers as they aren’t from another planet, and the generations have more in common than we think. For example a study of 5,400 workers by Professor Ben Rosen at Kenan-Flagler Business School showed that all four generations want these same five things from their bosses, and that is: challenging work, good pay, opportunities for advancement/learning, fair treatment and work-life balance. It seems some things never go out of style, and if millennials stick to doing the basics right, they’ll be able to effectively engage with older subordinates.
They are not all the same
Even though there are many similarities, younger managers should avoid falling into the trap of seeing all older people as if they are the same. There are still some key differences in generation outlook and expectations that younger managers should be aware of and should attempt to attune their management style to increase their engagement levels with older workers. For example, research (see this workplace characteristics graphic presented by Farleigh Dickson University) shows key generational differences in outlook in the following areas: Work Ethic and Values, Communications, Motivational Cues, Feedback and Rewards, Collaborative Style, and Leadership Style.
For example, if you want to build a rapport with baby boomers, you should rely on face-to-face communication as they are not as comfortable with doing it through email, social media or voicemail, whereas veterans respond much better to formal memos.
Also, it seems that generation X and millennials expect there to be a focus on work-life balance whereas this may not be such a motivational factor for baby boomers.
As well as this, generation X tend to like regular feedback on performance and like to be empowered and free to work without micromanagement. Boomers are also interested in regular feedback and are money and status/title orientated.
Now, this isn’t meant to be the 101 on generational differences in attitudes. It’s simply meant to introduce you to the idea that younger managers can and should tailor their management approach to suit the expectations of different generations to enable them to effectively manage older workers. Of course, don’t fall into the trap of pigeon holing workers from each generation; it’s just a guide. They are all individuals and will respond best of all if treated as such.