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Why is my age a big deal?

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Question: I happen to be a young manager in an office of around 70 employees. We try to keep a family-type atmosphere, in which we encourage "open" working relationships with managers and staff, but keep away from managers and employees becoming buddies.

I find that most employees respond to a manager who is more of a leader; who listens and responds to valid concerns.

I have great working relationships with the majority of staff, except for two 50-year-old women. These two staff, I have "heard" through the grapevine, have an issue because I am younger than them.

The thing I am confused about is that their behavior is more immature than that of other, much younger employees. They gossip, pout when they're talked to about valid concerns of mine, have lazy work habits, are nice as pie when I am around, etc.

I was wondering if there's a way to work it out in which I can change their behavior. Or, are they never going to respond to my direction and discipline merely because of my age?

The owner of the company is tired of their behavior and agrees that they aren't going to work out here. So, do I give up? I hate to throw in the towel without trying, but I am tired, and they should know how to behave.  -- Jocelyn


Comments

I had a problem to when I supervised older personnel than myself. Unfortunately, the company took there side. Not so smart in my opinion.

We have a couple of people here around the same age that are working because their husbands are retired. I just chuck up their behavior to the fact that's it's time to retire. They work with blinders on, they have their own agenda and god forbid you ask them for anything extra. But like you, they are as nice as pie when they want to be. If your boss agrees it won't work out, come up with a game plan and move on. They won't change and dont' try to change them, you will mentally exhaust yourself.

I am a 66-year-old woman in an office about the same size as Jocelyn's. When you get to this age, EVERYBODY is younger, including all staff, from management to janitor. It's very difficult, after a really long admin career, to have things "done differently" than what has always worked for you and taken you to where you are, but it's necessary to accept changes as they come along in a professional manner. My suggestion for these two ladies, based strictly on what I think would work for me, would be for you to meet with each of them individually and tactfully explain your position, and respectfully ask them each to cease and desist from their behavior (with the implied--although not necessarily spoken--admonition that to not do so would jeopardize their continued employment with the company). A new person recently joined our staff who had some "issues" that many found annoying. Her supervisor(s) independently had a short, very private conversation with her, and she came out of it saying "I'm glad to finally know what I've been doing wrong thru my last couple of jobs. Thank you!" It can't be fixed if it's not acknowledged and dealt with.

I agree with the first responder. If they won't change then let management do their job, however unfortunate that may be. I am 10 yrs senior over my supervisor, however, I respect her role, and we have a wonderful working relationship. In fact, she has commented that if she should leave our department she would have to take me with her and I feel the same. She has the educational back ground, work experience, and management experience that is needed to get the job done, I don't. I'm sure in your case you do also, the reason you were chosen for the position. You will have to usurp that authority, demand respect of all your employees, young and old or your superiors may feel that you can't handle the position.

I would suggest that you call them in your office, individually, and have a heart to heart talk with them. Let them know you are willing to work with them and would like to keep them on board, but regardless of age you are there to stay. Be kind, tactful but firm in your resolve.

I disagree that there is no opportunity to turn the situation around. I suggest you sit down with each of them individually. Don't tell them that you've heard rumors or suggest that there are behavior issues. Tell each of them that you sense that there may be sensitivity by some members of the team because of your young age. Ask what you can do to demonstrate that you are capable of leading the group. Let them know you value their input. Also, let them know that they are welcome to talk to you openly about any concerns they might have and that you recognize that your youth may make it seem as though you aren't experienced enough. Tell them you want their feedback. But you have to be sincere. They'll know if you're just trying to "butter them up."

I would caution you against any references to age. Your HR dept would probably flip over any such conversations initiated by a manager. I recommend you take a slightly different approach. Meet separately with each of your direct reports, beginning with these two ladies. Tell them that you are interested in hearing their suggestions for any process improvements or other ideas they may have. Tell them how this is a team and we all need to learn from each other and that you respect their knowledge and value their input. I think such a conversation will go a long way in building bridges with these ladies. After you have met with each of your team members individually, hold a team meeting and present your findings in an orderly fashion. Establish regular team meetings where your new findings can be explored and you can all formulate together new and improved processes for getting work done.

I must comment on problem #3. First of all there's always THREE sides to every story. What I found most disturbing about your problem was the last paragraph "The owner of the company is tired of their behavior and agrees that they aren't going to work out here. So, do I give up? I hate to throw in the towel without trying, but I am tired, and they should know how to behave." What comes to mind is "What right does the owner have discussing the two 50-year olds with you?" How else would you know that the owner is tired of their behavior and "agrees" they aren't working out. Did the owner have the decency to tell them that - and get their side of the story?

Sign: A 50-year old.

Correction to the first response.. sorry.

First of all there's always THREE sides to every story. What I found most disturbing about your problem was the last paragraph "The owner of the company is tired of their behavior and agrees that they aren't going to work out here."

What comes to mind is "What right does the owner have discussing the two 50-year olds with you?" How else would you know that the owner is tired of their behavior and "agrees" they aren't working out?

Has the owner have the decency to tell them that - and get their side of the story?

Sign: A 50-year old.

I agree with CJ and Marie. If you are listening to the rumor-mill and talking about them behind their backs, is it any wonder that they seem to be disgruntled? They may perceive a lack of respect due to their age (and they may be right!) They have probably been through MANY changes already, and change can be difficult. Perhaps they need training on "accepting change in the workplace" and you may need more training on "dealing with older employees." Speak to them individually, treat them with respect and show them that you value their opinions. Ask them how they feel about certain issues. Listen to them. They might actually have some insight that you hadn't thought of, and if not, then at least they will know you care about what they think. Please be kind and remember that you too will be the "older" employee one day.

I actually posted this question:

I thank you for all your responses but from your advise I felt that I could elaborate on my situation to maybe receive more advise. I have not talked about them behind their back but mearly heard from other people that the 50 year olds talked with. I have also sat with them individually and nicely, using some of same advise gotten from this forum. I talked with them about how I wanted our department to work as a team and that I welcome any advise they had. During the meeting I felt we were getting along and making progress. The owner is not just taking my side and does have the entire story, their misbehaviors are actually against company policy.

I was just wondering given the above information if there was any additional advise or have I exhuasted my options?

Thank you

I don't believe their behavior is anything to do with age. There must be more to it. Maybe your approach is not right. Maybe they feel unappreciated. Why don't you have a one-on-one with them. In our office we have one-on-one meetings with our boss annually and we are open and candid and that helps because the whole idea is to be honest and say what's on our mind. Remember we will all reach 50 one day, some sooner than others. If their behavior is against company policy, then have a meeting or hand out a manual which outlines the policy of the company. Don't single them out, have a general meeting and see if that helps. If there is no change, then take to a higher level.

(a 50+ year old)

I'd rather not deal with generalizations about age groups, young or old. It is entirely possible that you are dealing with two less than optimally-behaved workers who just HAPPEN to be older than you. But most people come to work to do well, not cause more problems than they solve. Communication styles between managers and employees, however, often vary so widely that there is little real communication going on. What one person perceives as direct and forthright another will find hurtful and demeaning. This is especially likley if there is a significant gap, whether in age, experience levels, education levels or anything else. The message you think you are giving these employees may not be the one they are hearing. Employees most often react badly when they feel threatened or undervalued in some way. Communication requires flexibility of style and adaptation of approach until you find what works. The responder who talked about the difficulties of change also made a valid point. Even if you aren't making sweeping changes, those changes you are creating may be perceived as a judgement that everything up to now has been all wrong. In smaller companies especially, loyalty to the former manager, to the way things have "always been done", can undermine your best intentions. I've been on both sides of this issue at different points in my career. Don't give up. You may want to invite these "problem" employees to help you find solutions. i.e. "I'm not seeing the kind of changes in your behavior (reactions, specific work issues, etc.) that I was hoping to see. I'd like you to help me put together an action plan to move your performance in the direction we've agreed on. What do you see as the things we should work on?...." Put some of the responsibility for resolving these issues back on their shoulders. Afterall, the repercussions if you don't find a mutually acceptable work approach will fall on them, not you.

Eliminate the age issue and stick with this one item: are they doing their jobs? You mention they have lazy work habits. If so, as their manager it's your job to correct them. If they are gossiping and their comments are insubordinate, as their manager it's your job to correct them. If they are not displaying acceptable work attitude, as their manager it's your job to correct them. If they refuse to make improvements, then do what any manager would do: begin the process of termination. Think about this: they have you just where they want you. You're having to figure out a way to deal with them, they are having an impact on your work life, etc. So, who has the upper hand here? They do. And, last time we all looked, you were STILL THEIR MANAGER! (Sorry to be so hard and fast...but you have wasted way too much valuable time on these ladies. Take care of the problem and move on!)

In a company of your size, I would expect you have an HR depratment and/or policies for addressing problem WORKING behavior, eg. a series of official warnings leading toward termination. Follow them.

Ignore the gossip, ignore the fact that these two employees may not like you and focus on the concrete work problems with a plan for fixing them. And treat each worker as an individual, do not group them together.

Meanwhile, continue to make an effort to win respect from ALL of your employees by showing them respect, asking for and utilizing their opinions and making them feel appreciated.

All you can do is be professional and respectful in how you deal with them. However changing them, forget it. They are never going to change...not because of your age or anything about you but because they are immature. All you can do is be above reproach as their manager. I've worked with many women like you described over the years and I have never seen them change. The are professional gossips, complainers and goof offs. I am in a situation right now where I work with a 50yr old who does nothing but complain and gossip and then pouts because she is not given more opportunities. I couldn't believe that by this age she hadn't figured out that hard work and attitude are what get you ahead. Sadly some never get it.

I would just like to add to my last comment that age is not the issue. The only reason I mentioned my coworker is 50 is because I believe by now she should know how to be professional. My comment about working with other women that were professional gossips and complainers who never changed...they were of all ages.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Orly September 1, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Hey. A joke’s a very serious thing.
I am from Afghanistan and learning to read in English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “Explosive stock picks, economic holdings are apart longer than first initial analysts.”

THX :(, Orly.

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Suzanne August 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I am also an lady in my sixties and my boss is 10 years young and we get along just find. She expresses many compliments to me and I always trying to keep up with th lates technology. Yes it is all about change and somethimes another way is the better way. Accept change in a professional manner and always with a smile.

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