How to manage older workers

By: Jacinth Klee
19 April, 2010

Almost all organisations have a group of older workers who are moving towards retirement.

These could be the people who had started with the company; workers who called themselves old-timers' or pioneers'.

With the emergence of more dynamic, technology-savvy talents among the management, there is a need to bridge the gap between the older worker and the younger manager, to ensure continuity of business and good working relationships in the company.

As both groups are from different generations, they may have uncomfortable perceptions of each other. It is therefore imperative to explain and correct these perceptions, in order to foster a comfortable working relationship, rather than allow the situation to worsen until the inevitable clashing of personalities, which could negatively impact the company operations.

The never-ending question is who should change or learn to adapt? Should managers discover the motivations of their older workers and learn to manage them? Or should the workers understand the mentality of their manager and learn to work with him or her?

It is a different set of working philosophies in today's organisations. To compete against global challenges, organisations are moving towards team-working and integration of efforts. If the company and management hope to achieve this, than the managers should make the effort to understand the psychology of their workers, and learn how to manage them.

Get your attitude right
Do not adopt the know-it-all attitude; this is very annoying. No one knows everything, not even if you have your academic and professional qualifications behind you. You want to be respected as a manager, then respect your workers too.

Many managers do not understand the simple philosophy behind this; they feel that respect is due them, as they are managers. Respect can only be earned. Engage the cooperation of your older workers; as long as they feel no threat to their positions, they are willing to work along with you.

Getting their co-operation
The older workers may be senior in age, but they are by no means useless to the organisation. With their experience in the organisation and industry, they are a valuable resource to the manager. Leverage that experience, and you will find that you do not need to re-invent the wheel in most cases.

Since they are familiar with the processes, procedures and customers in the company, you need not spend valuable time and effort training them on the fundamentals, as you would for a new recruit.

Communication and involvement
Every manager has his/her set of expectations, and a different style of working: however do not assume that your workers should know yours. The older workers are used to certain working styles and protocols, so if you wish to make any changes, communicate the changes clearly and provide explanations, if possible.

Some older workers would resist against changes or new policies set by the managers; in order to reduce that resistance, get them involved in the process. Allow opportunities for them to express their opinions about the changes; invite suggestions and input. When people are involved, their resistance is reduced.

Training and motivation
Nearing retirement does not mean the older workers cannot, and do not, want to be trained. If the training programs can enhance their productivity and satisfaction quotient, it would motivate them.

Though they are independent and do not need hands-holding, older workers would appreciate the management concern in organising training and motivation programs for them.

Everyone would like to have their work noticed and appreciated, whether they are managers or workers, young or old. Always remember to let your workers know that you appreciate their efforts into getting a job done well.

Awards, incentives and recognition boost their morale and keep them motivated; sometimes a word of compliment or encouragement works wonders.

Leadership and management skills
This is a real test of the managerial and leadership skills of the manager. Just as you are concerned about your older workers, so they would feel the same about you. The workers will initially be skeptical of your capability as a manager and leader.

There are isolated situations where older workers tend to sow seeds of discontent among the rest of the team. Be observant and watch their behavior towards you.

Respecting your staff does not mean compromising your position, and you must have confidence and substance. Once your team believes in your capabilities, they will naturally trust you to lead them. However, be assertive: there is always a thin line between being kind and a pushover.

As a manager in charge of older workers, always remember that one day, you could be in their place; so question yourself on what you would expect from your manager. Older workers should never be perceived or treated as burdens to the manager and the organisation. If managed properly, they are one of the best resources available, as they have the talents, experience and exposure that new recruits may not possess.

It is up to the manager to apply the older workers to relevant and productive tasks, so as to maximise their talents and experience; thus making working life satisfying and constructive for both workers and management.