By 2020, people over 55 years old are likely to make up over 25 percent of the workforce in the United States. While many companies talk about keeping an aging workforce employed, good intentions alone do not prepare those companies to make it happen. And the challenge isn’t limited to managing and supporting an aging workforce, but also includes making an intergenerational workforce work smoothly.
We have a few tips on how to tread this new ground.
Toss Your Assumptions
First and foremost, drop all of your assumptions and stereotypes about hiring baby boomers or anyone from either the Silent Generation or the oldest of Generation X. Older employees are not necessarily bad with technology or exceedingly loyal. Every individual that you hire is exactly that:an individual — exactly the same as your younger employees. Treat them as such.
Different Age Groups Have Different Goals
What were your goals at 18 years old? How about at 21, 25, and 30? Priorities and goals change as you age, and the incentives you offer to a 21-year-old floor manager at Macy’s or an entry-level software engineer at Lyft may not mean anything to a baby boomer returning to the workforce.
Never assume that an older employee knows exactly what needs to be accomplished. Unless they are trained specifically for the task, spell it out. Realistically, this goes for every employee. If the training provided doesn’t cover what needs to be done in depth, don’t assume that employees understand what to do.
Don’t leave it at, “John, get the budget done by next week.” Be more specific.For example: “John, we need the department’s budget completed by next week. This is for the next fiscal year. Use the numbers from last year and add 12 percent to everything except for new employee training, which should go up by 17 percent.”
Thoroughly Train Them
Even if your new baby boomer spent a decade managing the cleaning staff downtown at Hotel 1000 in the ‘60s, they don’t necessarily know the protocols for your unique location. They need training just as much as your younger employees, and they need it just as often. Take nothing for granted, and remember that they are just as receptive to learning as anyone on your staff.
Listen to Them
Recognize that your older workers have been around the block a few times. They’ve seen a lot, and learned a lot for it. Montlake Bicycle Shop may know exactly what it’s doing, but a suggestion from an experienced bicycle mechanic who spent the better part of their life in the field can still be helpful.
Beyond industry experience, older employees have plenty of life experience and encouragement to offer to the younger generations. Recognize this, learn from it, and be willing to pick one another up with whatever you have to offer.
Find Common Ground
There are far more similarities between generations than there are differences. Even seemingly insignificant things — such as everyone agreeing that Mike’s Chili Parlor has the best chili north of Salmon Bay, or that the Little Red Hen is the friendliest country bar in Seattle — serve as common ground. At the end of the day, it’s still team-building.
As we discussed above, the same incentives may not appeal to all your employees equally. Make a group activity of coming together to discuss what benefits and incentives are most valuable across your staff. There may be more similarities than you think.
Make It Happen
You’re all on the same team with the same objective — work together. Rather than pit strengths and weaknesses against each other, leverage everyone’s strengths to eliminate weaknesses as a whole. As difficult as multigenerational challenges may initially seem, surmounting them comes down to communicating and taking advantage of what each person brings to the table.