“Millennials are entitled.” “She’s so old school.” “He doesn’t even get email on his phone!” There are four generations in the workforce right now and, while that age diversity brings with it diversity of thought and experience, it also brings certain challenges for company leadership.
Startup founders may find themselves in a leadership position that they’ve never been in before. This might entail hiring and managing employees that are significantly older or younger. The knowledge that experienced employees bring to the table can benefit any team within the company, as well as the overall vision. On the other hand, younger employees bring high energy, adaptability, and new technological and marketing trends.
If you’re a leader who is experiencing a disconnect due to age gaps, fear not. By opening lines of communication and consciously moving beyond stereotypes, you can foster a successful and productive relationship with your employees no matter the age range. Check out our tips below for managing — and harnessing your employees skills! — when there’s a large age gap between you and the people who trust you to lead.
Get rid of stereotypes
Identify stereotypical words used to describe entire generations, and ban them from the workplace. The reason? It breeds bad attitude to lump everyone of a certain age together. Younger employees are often (perhaps unintentionally) described lazy, entitled, or always on their phones, whereas older generations might be called out for the exact opposite — not constantly checking work email from their mobile! You don’t want to alienate your young, fresh talent, or offend older employees whose respect you probably have to earn initially. No two people are the same, so just skip stereotypes.
Diffuse skepticism with tangible success
This is particularly applicable for a younger founder. It’s important for employees to know why you’re the boss, besides just having the Founder, CEO, or President title. What have you done and are currently doing to earn this top position? Don’t brag, but be open and transparent about company accomplishments that you have led. And definitely don’t seem entitled — a little bit of humility goes a long way.
Understand what motivates each individual
As people age through different life stages, their goals, motivations, and values change. Understand that an entry-level employee who’s single with no children will have different goals and work ability than a near-retirement empty nester. Some may be chasing a promotion, while others appreciate praise, recognition, and solid benefits. Incentives will vary, and keeping everyone content requires paying attention to each individual.
Mix and mingle
One thing that older employees all have to offer is experience. Mix your older employees with your younger and entry-level employees to serve as mentors and standard-setters. Create a formal program or an informal, but regular, gathering to foster this environment. This opens up positive dialogue and camaraderie in the office, and helps different generations understand each other better.
Recognize that they’ve probably been leaders too
This one is specifically for those managing older employees. As a leader, you don’t have to know it all! There’s a high chance some of your employees have been in your position before, whether in a professional setting, a volunteer position, or even as a leader of their family. When it’s appropriate, feel free leave some of the preconceived managerial hierarchy behind. Be open to ideas, opinions, and input. These individuals have life experience with lots of value behind it. Tap into it if you can.
Most importantly, communicate!
Don’t assume that your employees know exactly what you need from them. Yes, they may be able to work independently, but don’t just allocate tasks. Be very clear in why the task needs to be done, and what the measurements of success will be. Every employee, no matter what age, performs better if they understand the larger picture.
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