How a manager can best lead Older Direct Reports

Managing older direct reports is critical to becoming an effective leader


Malhar Lakshman , Mon 27 June 2022
Offices are often set up to be diverse, with employees differing in age, gender, race, mindset, work orientation, and many other aspects. 

While we have previously discussed how to best foster entry-level direct reports, another demographic that is often ignored are the most experienced workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics department, 22% of the current professional workforce is above the age of 55. However, there is an ongoing movement where older workers and their knowledge are treated as obsolete and are let go. 

                Therefore, if you are in a managerial role in which you are overseeing older individuals, there are certain considerations you can make to ensure that you are best leading older Direct Reports.

What can Older Employees offer?

                Older direct reports tend to have great experience and perspective that many younger employees lack. They tend to understand the structure of your office better than anyone else there. Many managers often pair them with entry-level workers as a mentor to help them understand the soft skills of being in an office. 

                When I entered my first office job, I was incredibly lost since it was an entry-level and client-facing position. Consequently, I made a few mistakes, as one does on their first job. Unfortunately, I got a very angry phone call from a customer, and regardless of what I was able to offer them, they gradually became more aggressive.

                As I was crying in the break room, an older gentleman named Jim noticed and came over. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I learned that he had worked for the company for 37 years and was about to retire. He asked what had put me in such a bad mood and was shocked to hear what had happened. 

                As soon as I got a call from the next customer who was known to get irate easily, Jim sat next to me and started typing notes as he listened to what they had to say. He gestured at me to use some of the phrases he had typed up, and to my pleasant surprise, worked without a hitch. I received a high customer satisfaction score and learned a lot from Jim about how to communicate with customers.

                Jim continued to coach me and taught me skills such as customer-facing techniques, along with how to communicate and correspond with my managers and coworkers. I can confidently say that without Jim, I would’ve quit that job.

                People like Jim exist all over the working population. Understanding how these older direct reports can teach and mentor younger direct reports can dramatically improve your employee’s efficiency.  

Why the diverse perspective an older employee brings is beneficial to the business?

In addition to the potential mentorship opportunities that older employees provide, they also have a few aspects unique to them that lend them a perspective that younger employees may lack.

First, they are often very cost-effective.  Due to the fact that they are more settled in their industry, you do not need to worry as much about turnover costs. According to the Wharton School,  there is a common misbelief that older employees may need more time off due to health restrictions and incur higher health insurance. This is untrue. On average, health costs are less for older workers due to them no longer having dependents on their healthcare plans. In addition to that, Medicare can further reduce healthcare bills after an employee passes the age of 65.

Second, older employees also have a bigger focus on customer-facing skills. Due to their years of experience, these workers tend to have much better communication skills, with not only customers and vendors, but also with their coworkers. 

They also have extremely high problem-solving skills. Since they have encountered so many problems of their own, older employees can draw upon some of the solutions that they have used in the past to help solve current problems. A key part of problem-solving skills is to learn from past mistakes. These employees have made mistakes in the past, and typically do not harbor fears of making more mistakes, unlike younger workers.  Their angles and techniques can be drawn upon without any problems.

Should employers be worried that older Employees are outdated?
 
 
A current argument for hiring younger workers is that older workers simply don’t have the knowledge needed to survive in the current industry. An example of this could be in the technology industry, which is changing every day, and even newer employees struggle to keep up with it. 

This argument isn’t the best in my opinion, on the grounds that there are multiple areas in which an employee can be used. Not only can older employees be used in mentorship roles, but also in positions other than just the skills portion. 

It is important to remember that these employees grew up during a time when the internet and even smartphones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now. Therefore, these employees grew up in a time where personal interaction and memos were mandatory for success. 

Due to the many changing environments that they’ve already been through, older employees are often extremely flexible and work hard. In addition to this, the power of a good network will never diminish. They can often set up future ventures for you that results in a large profit. Certain industries also have structures that have been in place for years, regardless of how trends develop. New workers may have trouble adjusting to these, but older workers thrive in them.

How can you best utilize these older and more experienced workers?

For starters, it's important to understand that these employees might even have more experience than you, regardless of your position. As such, you should acknowledge this, and be willing to learn just as much from them as they do from you.  Give them fair treatment as well. It is completely okay for an older person to make as much or more money as a younger person if they have more experience. 

Instruct your younger workers about the concepts of horizontal mentorship. Just like your younger workers may have biases, older workers can have the same biases. You can instruct and help your older workers in the same way that you would the newer workers. Give them opportunities to learn and develop, just like you would a younger direct report.

When recruiting, as mentioned before, try and eliminate race, gender, and age from your recruiters’ strategies. Longevity and age can be buzzwords for your strategies. It's important to recognize that not everyone has the same financial checkpoints at the same time. What one might accomplish by 65, might not be accomplished by someone else until the age of 70. According to the Harvard Business Review, it costs about a million dollars to retire at the age of 65.  Understand that everyone will have some form of motivation to work.  

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers

Privacy Policy