IAN FERGUSON: Managers must relate to their older workers


Ian Ferguson

Being an effective manager takes critical skills such as leadership, communication and strategic planning. It takes time to build rapport and respect with a team, and managers who do not take the time to do this can have a negative impact on team performance and morale. One of the great communications challenges that 21st century managers face is engaging the four or more generations in the workplace. Managing legacy employees who have served for more than 30 years in one institution has become increasingly more challenging. With all the changes taking place around them, many have decided to build walls and fences around the companies they grew up in.

In this article, we explore strategies to help new managers effectively lead older employees.

  1. Respect their experience. Not long ago the workplace was generally governed by years of experience. The common theory was that the more experience you have, the higher the leadership role that was warranted. With today’s emphasis on digital culture and innovative frameworks, younger generations have begun to populate management positions with fresh perspectives and tech-savvy attributes.

Although you have earned your position as leader through perseverance and skill sets that are adaptable to the modern world, it is productive to respect and leverage the experience of older colleagues working for or with you. Take time to create a dialogue and learn about their experiences in the field. Do not dismiss the importance of experience. They may not be the most proficient in millennial-style tactics, but they have valuable wisdom that can crystallise into productive outcomes. During team discussions, create opportunities for them to communicate these experiences and highlight the value from it.

  1. Do not over-communicate authority. It is a natural instinct to not be immediately pleased at being told what to do by somebody who may be your granddaughter’s age. Find a balance between being assertive and effective, while not over-communicating your authority. When having a hard conversation, do not resort to “I’m your boss” type statements. These can come across as deadly to the older employees you are leading. It is important to communicate credibility and authority, but be mindful of how you communicate it. Reinforce your credibility but manage your ego while doing so. Do not stretch the “I’m your boss” narrative.

  2. Practice empathy. Lifestyles are likely to be different for someone aged in their 40s or 50s when compared to someone in their 20s. Give them the empathy they deserve for possibly being a mother, father or someone who simply has obligations outside the workplace that differ from yours. They might be struggling with balancing work and a busy home life, and sometimes we may not relate to these challenges because we may not be there yet.

Practice empathy by acknowledging their situations and welcoming these dialogues. As a leader, spend the time to build a culture that allows them to feel safe in the workplace through empathy. Showing you care or simply understand will usually motivate them to give you their all while working. This can result in an effective working relationship long-term. In the end, we are all emotional human beings in different situations.

• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@coralwave.com.


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