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Plug the generation gap

Respect your elders and they’ll respect you

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When Sue became a project manager, she inherited a staff of six. Three of her employees had 15-plus years of seniority on her, and they resented her supervision. Sue tried her best, but these three otherwise fine employees soon took early retirement.

It’s hard enough to manage employees of any age. But when they’re significantly older than you, you’ve got an even more delicate situation.

Use these tips to enlist the help of older employees and win their respect:

Root out assumptions. Never let a person’s age lead you to assume anything. For example, don’t jump to the conclusion they’ll refuse to listen to you because of your age. This puts you in an adversarial mind-set from the start. Reframe the situation positively. Ask yourself, “How can I draw on her experience while letting her grow professionally?” Don’t make assertions without proof.

Avoid stereotyping. Resist the urge to blame age for poor behavior or inferior work. Anyone can act absent-minded or stubborn; don’t pin these attributes on your veterans.

Above all, don’t confide to colleagues that older workers are hard to handle. Comments such as “They’re stuck in their ways” or “They’ll never catch on” might get back to them. Then you’ll lose their trust—and you may land in court on age discrimination charges.

Apply the same standards. You gain credibility with all your employees by evaluating them consistently. If you play favorites and give some of them better raises—or cut younger individuals more slack when they slip up—you not only create morale problems but are daring older employees to hit you with a lawsuit.

Solicit input. If you’re having trouble with older employees, you may want to assert more control. That’s a mistake. The more you clamp down, the greater the resistance you’ll face. Instead, listen to their concerns and proposals. Acknowledge when they’re right, make concessions and come up with suggestions.

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