These days, many small business owners find themselves managing employees across a wide range of age groups. Understanding the kinds of differences that exist between workers of different generations can build morale and promote productivity. In particular, knowing how to motivate and inspire Baby Boomer employees will help you get the most from men and women in this experienced, knowledgeable age group.
Learning to lead older employees starts with the business owner herself. In the likely event that you’ve brought on people who are older than you, it’s natural to feel a bit defensive about managing someone with more workplace experience than you. In the same respect, there’s a lot you can learn from working closely with this individual—gaining insights and a grasp of the workplace you might never get by associating only with younger, inexperienced workers.
So how do you maximize the investment in your older employees?
Don’t come off as the expert. Yes, you’re the boss, but nowhere is it written that you know everything. If you feel comfortable asking questions and listening closely to their answers, Baby Boomer employees can share a lot of valuable information with you. By demonstrating a lack of defensiveness, you set a great example for others on your team, encouraging them to also seek out guidance from their older co-workers.
Remember, Baby Boomer employees (like others in your business) look to you for leadership. They expect that, whatever the situation, you’ll remain calm and in control. They watch for evidence of your ability to make mature, critical decisions about the business. They want to respect the person they work for, not look down on him.
Keep lines of communication open. You’ll probably encounter older workers who have their own ways of doing things and resist appeals to change. New technology is sometimes an obstacle to productivity. In situations like these, a good approach is to take the time to communicate clearly why it’s important to adapt one’s behavior to changing conditions and how this will benefit everyone in the business. Baby Boomer employees are much more inclined to “get with the program” once they have a clear grasp on what you hope to achieve.
Your chosen method of communication is important, too. In general, older employees—while often adept at the use of email and social media—have grown up in work environments that value face-to-face contact. They will respond more favorably to in-person communications.
Whenever possible, set up a meeting to discuss projects or concerns or pick up the phone and call. You’ll get better results with human contact.
Benefit from older employees’ experience. Baby Boomer employees have a lot to contribute to your business. Consider their experience. In most cases, they have worked for numerous companies and in many different positions over the years. Your business will benefit by leveraging this experience to address specific business challenges and new opportunities. Encourage younger workers to consult with their more senior counterparts when possible, so they can better understand how things came to be how they are today. Older employees have learned a great deal in their careers and are happy to share their experiences.
Training helps everyone. Regardless of generation, all workers can benefit from job training in one form or another. Baby Boomer employees have faced considerable change in their various positions; you’ll find that they’re eager to learn and in many cases will master new skills quicker than others. Make sure to keep them updated on changes in technology and other business processes.
Effectively managing your older employees will help ensure a thriving, diverse and productive workforce to grow your business.
For more information:
“Leading Older Employees” – Harvard Business Review Blog