There certainly seems to be a growing interest in the dynamics between a younger boss and an older employee.
As our population ages and older workers stay in the workforce longer, the traditional hierarchy of an organisation is changing. Where age often determined seniority, for the first time in history we are seeing an emerging trend where older workers are now reporting to younger managers.
The concept of ‘retirement’ for many older workers is either something they don’t aspire to or something that for the moment is simply out of reach. Financial pressures, mid-life divorce, increased life expectancy and the desire to have a comfortable retirement, are either driving older workers back to work or keeping them in the workforce longer.
As with any cultural or demographic shift, this obviously presents some challenges that organisations need to address in order to ensure a cohesive and productive workplace.
Many recruiters and hiring managers hold negative assumptions and stereotypes about older workers: reluctance to embrace change, not being tech savvy and an inability to work with younger colleagues are just a few of the often preconceived ideas.
Too often, the burden seems to be placed on older workers to adapt to working with a younger boss.
Advice for older workers
There is plenty of documented advice for older workers. One of the most prevalent is a need to show a willingness to embrace change and use new technologies. That equates to ‘get an online profile’!
We regularly advise mature jobseekers in an interview situation to address the ‘elephant in the room’.
Even though the interviewee might not directly ask the older worker how they would handle a younger boss, they are probably thinking it. Therefore, we advise our jobseekers to address this issue directly, reiterating they actually enjoy working with younger people and providing an example of how they have worked well with younger colleagues in the past.
However, if you turn the tables, less expectation is placed on younger managers to understand how best to work with and manage older workers.
Surely there is an important role for younger managers to play here as well?
Advice for younger managers
For the first time in history, four generations of workers could find themselves working together.
This is a fact organisations can no longer ignore and if they continue to do so for better workplace ‘harmony’ in the short term, they stand to face more pain in the long term.
We are only at the start of this phenomenon – therefore educating younger managers on the important role and contribution older workers make is imperative to ensure the longer-term growth and competitiveness of the organisation.
Younger managers who effectively work with their older colleagues stand to gain from not only having a more engaged employee, but also learn some valuable life lessons that aren’t taught at university. Older workers not only have valuable work experience, they have life experience too.
Where a younger boss may find themselves in a challenging situation for the first time, chances are their older counterpart has dealt with a similar situation before. The older worker can act as a trusted advisor, mentor or sounding board providing advice and guidance on how to best manage the situation.
This type of scenario playing out is not far fetched. How often would a father or mother act as a ‘guide’ for their Gen Y children? Therefore, why could an older colleague not fulfil this same role?
Sure, respect must come into the equation. However the first step in obtaining mutual respect in the workforce is to encourage an environment where all opinions and contributions are valued. Mutual respect is something all organisations should encourage.
If organisations continue to promote and aspire to be an employer of choice, they need to ensure processes are in place to foster a culture where the burden does not simple rest on one individual to come to the table with a willingness and openness to embrace change.
Heidi Holmes is the Managing Director of Adage.com.au a mature age job search site and online community for jobseekers aged 45-plus. If you would like to find out more about the benefits of mature workers please contact Heidi directly at Heidi@adage.com.au.