As enterprise leaders from the first wave of Baby Boomers retire, they are being replaced by talented but novice younger managers and executives. In ever increasing numbers, employees too young for wrinkles, bifocals or midlife bulge are being promoted to senior and intermediate leadership positions in enterprises large and small. At times, they supervise seasoned employees old enough to be their parents!
A clash of generational cultures is already beginning to take place, creating stress, strain and discontent both for young bosses and their older subordinates. Long-tenured veterans who have prospered for years in traditional top-down hierarchies have grown accustomed to the dictum: “With age and experience comes authority.” Seasoned employees simmer, “How dare my company promote someone with so little experience over me! Why am I being tossed aside? How in the world can I take orders from a boss younger than my daughter?”
Young bosses may experience high anxiety as well: “Will a subordinate with 25 years in this business take me seriously? How will I authenticate my authority? How in the world can I inspire senior citizens to abandon stone-age notions, master the latest technology and contribute in this information age?”
As a long-standing representative of the post-50 workforce, I offer some unsolicited advice to young leaders on how to overcome our intransigence, resentment and fear of the future. Believe it or not, a lot of us are receptive to change, are more than willing to follow your direction and greatly admire your mastery of the communication age.
To bring out the best in us old folks, here are a few suggestions:
Suggestion #1: Tell us what you want. Effective communication between young and old is an absolute necessity. Do not simply hand out assignments then move on. We don’t always understand the new technology and all the terms that go with it but we are willing to try so long as you stick around to give us clear instructions. Also, we would appreciate that you listen to our input before you blithely hand out workload.
Suggestion #2: Respect our experience both in the workplace and in life. Even the 50-year-old mother of grown children entering the workforce for the first time has a wealth of experience–managing the household, motivating individuals (husband & kids) and interacting with others. Please look beyond formal education and job history to uncover those valuable skills transferable to the present situation.
Suggestion #3: Make us feel special. Admittedly, many of us don’t feel wonderful about being passed over for the position you now hold. Overcome our resentment by demonstrating time and again that we still belong–indeed you can’t get the job done without us. Sometimes a simple ‘thank you’ is all that we need. If asked, we will be honored to fill you in on company and industry history and to help train and mentor our less-experienced colleagues. Of course, whenever merited we old-timers would appreciate a raise, incentive bonus or alternative form of monetary reward.
Suggestion #4: Offer us the training we need. Just because we are over 50 doesn’t mean we have no desire to learn new skills or explore fresh horizons. Not unlike our younger colleagues, we need to remain abreast of the latest technology. Regardless of age, keeping us up to date will be well worth the investment. If not effectively trained and indoctrinated, we may not be able to contribute enough to justify our compensation.
Suggestion #5: Please try not to lord it over us that you are the boss. Most of us grew up in a traditional command and control business environment and we will follow you so long as you demonstrate competence, impartiality and totally ethical behavior. We are well aware that you are the one in charge, so you needn’t keep telling us! In addition to giving orders, we ask that you coach us to sharpen our focus and help us to hone our workplace skills.
Suggestion 6: Recognize that we many years invested in this company. Most of us have a lot to lose! I am certain you understand our overriding concern for job security. At our age, it would be difficult if not impossible to locate a comparable position in another enterprise. We simply want assurances we can keep our jobs so long as we meet realistic performance criteria and the enterprise remains sound.
Suggestion #7-–Above all else, do not stereotype us, your seasoned employees or arbitrarily assume that we are unable to change. Every one of us is a living, breathing human being, not a stereotypical Baby Boomer. Do so-called experts honestly believe that all 76 million of us think and behave the same? More than a few of us are open to radical new ideas and to bold mid-career experimentation.
To summarize, here are my “16 E’s” of seasoned employee motivation:
- Empower on-board veteran employees.
- Exchange information freely; create an information democracy.
- Elicit feedback. We’ve been around a long time and have learned a lot.
- Educate veteran employees, ensuring us the skills needed for a bang-up job.
- Encourage subordinates to move forward, even at mid-career and beyond.
- Entice veteran employees to recommit to company goals by offering an inspiring positive vision of the future.
- Enlist dedicated seasoned subordinates as ‘deputy agents of change.’
- Enhance work assignments for employees young and old.
- Emply the full range of employee capabilities.
- Enfranchise seasoned subordinates by dispersing decision rights broadly throughout your area of responsibility.
- Elevate performance of seasoned employees by inspirationally challenging us to new heights.
- Eliminate age discrimination, office politics and any similar form of destructive emotional distraction.
- Evaluate performance judiciously on a timely basis, providing constructive, not destructive criticism.
- Expand incentive programs for plateaued seasoned employees so that everyone is rewarded for contributing more.
- Extend careers of exceptional older employees by enriching their workday and offering part and full-time options for working beyond normal retirement age.
- Engage soon-to-retire employees up until their final day on the job.
An executive team that routinely promotes and lives by these ’16 E’s’ of seasoned employee motivation will attract and retain the best-of-the-best, thereby conserving and enhancing one of your company’s most prized assets: the uniquely experienced and qualified collection of seasoned on-board veterans–the ones who drive day-to-day operations.
For additional information on company revival and seasoned employee motivation, please preview my book WAKE UP CAPTAIN AND CREW–RESTART YOUR ENGINES! You can preview and purchase the book both on Amazon.com and on our website www.middleagerenewal.com.