December 7, 2015
What are the benefits of having a workforce with a varied range of ages? The different generational perspectives allow creativity and innovation when solving business problems. Not only do older workers provide mentorship and guidance to their younger counterparts, but younger workers provide the same type of mentorship to older workers by introducing them to new ideas and perspectives. In some cases, some younger employees have more experience and skill in one area than those who have been working longer than them. This dynamic has its many advantages, but also can lead to two sticky situations that HR should keep in mind.
Age discrimination can happen even before you meet a candidate. When preparing to fill a new role at your company, look over the job requisite and make sure that the verbiage isn’t subtly age-discriminatory. According to Fortune’s “This is the latest way employers mask age bias, lawyers say,” some companies have been using terms like “new grad” or “digital native” to discriminate against people over 40 years of age.
Before you bring in a potential candidate, communicate with the hiring manager about ageism and the best way to articulate questions. Most people discriminate by age unwittingly, so an aware hiring manager will less likely add to the problem. Pay extra attention to questions involving technology competency, length of experience, and working with younger colleagues.
Age discrimination doesn’t stop after the hiring process. An example of an age stereotype is that older workers aren’t tech-savvy. If you’re not sure if someone has the technical skills for completing a project, just ask respectfully and encourage honesty. Usually, they’ll tell you what obstacles they’re having or if it’s something that they can complete without extra training. On the flipside, an age stereotype in reverse is that millennials are entitled. It’s in good judgment to try and observe without bias the employee supposedly displaying entitled behavior. If they do in fact, have an entitled attitude, put some on thought on the best way to change this employee’s behavior. Maybe direct confrontation isn’t the best solution, but explaining to the employee how long and how much other employees have worked to earn certain work benefits or projects can provide context around why some workplace perks exist.
Young Managers with Older Direct Reports
How can younger managers deal with much older direct reports? HR should let younger managers realize that they have much more in common with their direct reports than they think.They both still have career aspirations, fears, strengths, and weaknesses–they’re both human. Remind younger managers that they should be confident, but incorporate humility, since they still have limited experience. Their job as a manager is to cultivate the skills and strengths of their team to the best of their ability. They should be open-minded to feedback from their direct reports, and never be afraid to offer constructive feedback or coaching to them.
HR preparing an older worker for a younger manager can also be a sensitive situation. Educate the older worker on ageism in the workplace, and let them know that your door is always open if they have any issues. To be really involved, you might schedule a quarterly check-in to make sure the employee is still feeling comfortable in his or her situation.
Dealing with these types of situations is complicated with no one right answer. A formal training program that teaches professional conduct in age-diverse situations could be helpful to your company. According to the Training Journal, having a formal age-diverse training program can eliminate biases, unite teams around common goals, and unlock the benefits of having an age-diverse workforce. The Training Journal also suggests an informal way is to encourage mentorship between older and younger workers. It “offers an opportunity for business to broaden and develop some of the skills of individual employees in an inexpensive and time-effective way.”
Although having an age-diverse workforce is advantageous, there will always be complex situations that arise from the different generational viewpoints. The best way to succeed is to keep an open mind and eliminate stereotypes and bias as much as possible. If your company is able to navigate through these age-diverse situations, it will benefit with more innovation and creativity in reaching their business goals.