Working With Older People

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Jun 25, 2012 in , , | No Comments


Working for, (or with), people older than yourself requires a few basic common sense rules…

  • Respect  I put respect first for a very good reason–certain employers are complaining younger workers aren’t respecting their older coworkers and supervisors. What might respect look like? Basically, it can be an understanding that these people have “paid their dues”–they’ve put in decades of hard work–and know a great deal about their field. Next, it’s not assuming they are like your parents, or the stereotypes and generalizations you’ve probably heard about from those who haven’t done their homework. You don’t like to be stereotyped, therefore, don’t do it to your older coworkers or supervisor.
  • Communication  Communicate with coworkers, or your boss, in a different way than you do with your friends. By this I mean: don’t send off a quick e-mail using the type of abbreviations you would while texting, and watch spelling and grammar errors too. Employers value an employee who has the ability to communicate on a high level–verbal and written. Self-monitoring is essential if you’ve developed a habit of using a lot of slang–or worse yet–sentences liberally sprinkled with the f-word.
  • Technology  Depending on the region, industry and job, some older workers haven’t found it necessary to keep up on the latest technology. However in my area, the San Francisco Bay Area, technology is king and many of the tech companies were started by people who are of the Baby Boomer generation. Take the late Steve Jobs and his predecessor Tim Cook–both Baby Boomers–to name just two. One-on-one communication is important to older workers, therefore, if you have the opportunity to walk into your supervisors office to discuss something (instead of sending an e-mail) do it. Successful workers use both technology and one-on-one communication.
  • Work Ethic  Last week, I heard a frustrated employer, a small business owner in his 60′s say: “I won’t hire any more younger workers, they don’t have a work ethic. I’m looking to hire mature workers.” That says a lot doesn’t it? From what I gathered, he’s had a string of high school grads and college students who had no clue about customer service, being conscientious, and having a willingness to learn. While this is just one employer, he voices what I’ve heard from a few others. Do all you can to learn what’s expected of you, then be the best younger worker an employer ever had!
  • Common Ground  In the workplace, you’re stuck with whomever was hired before you, so make the best of it. Strive to find common ground. Everyone has something they can relate to with another person, figure out what that is in conversations during lunch or breaks. You’re going to be spending 8+ hours with these people, a good working relationship is mandatory. If you find someone willing to show you the ropes, passing on valuable information, all the better! Return the favor by finding out what they need to help make their job easier. This cross generational mentoring is becoming very desirable in many workplaces. Think of the bonus points you’ll make when you tell your boss you’ve taken the initiative to learn something new, or taught someone a valuable skill. Be sure to word the latter in a tactful way.
  • Resentment  Working with older coworkers could prove difficult if they feel you’re there to steal their position. In this current economic environment, it’s not hard to imagine why they’d feel threatened. Too many valuable older workers were sent to the unemployment lines in record numbers since 2008. Be mindful of their possible fears. If you were in fact hired to take over their position, and they’ve been told to train you, let them know you appreciate what they are doing. Put yourself in their place, have compassion, be kind.

Employers want employees who can work together as a team. Take the time to understand how to get along with those coworkers and supervisors who are older than yourself. The person who benefits is you!


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