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June 25, 2014 / Molly Moseley

Generation mix: Managing and motivating baby boomers

shutterstock_182373320Picture this: You’re 35 and just got a new job managing a 10-person team. You arrive at work and learn every member of that team is as old as your parents. How can you remain positive and create a work environment that embraces a generational mix of employees without any negativity or backlash?

First, consider the many benefits of having a workplace with employees of different generations. Working alongside baby boomers has many potential benefits. Their long life experience brings new perspectives to the table. Their business savvy can ensure a well-rounded approach to projects. Boomers are notoriously hard workers, too, and when given respect they often reward a company and their team with remarkable loyalty.

The Great Recession and increased expectations for standards of living has caused many boomers to work later in life. Boomers are working past 60 and many plan to work up to 70 or beyond. If you’re tasked with managing members of the baby boomer generation, consider these insights that can help smooth the process and ensure a productive, collaborative team.

Technology
While younger generations grew up with technology readily available, baby boomers needed to learn tech skills much later in life. While some are completely up to speed and just as tech savvy as their millennial counterparts, others may need extra time to learn new technologies and use them efficiently at work. Exercise patience and offer training as needed.

Communication
For younger generations, email and texts are the quick and easy way to communicate. Boomers, in general, thrive on more personal approaches to communication. That’s not to say everything requires a formal conversation, but know when it’s appropriate to send a quick email and when a phone call or in-person meeting is better. When praise and kudos are due, always opt for face-to-face conversations in order to make a bigger impact.

Approach
Managing boomers with a steady yet gentle grip is the key to building solid workplace relationships. Don’t walk in and proclaim to be the boss; rather, take the approach of being a facilitator. Few things are worse than an arrogant supervisor, and this is even more off-putting when there is a big age gap. Good bosses will focus on streamlining processes and removing obstacles. Establish and maintain an open-door policy, be proactive with discussions and get input before making big decisions that affect the team.

Change
The one constant in life and in business is change, but for boomers, adapting to change can sometimes feel daunting. If you need to change something, especially if it’s been in effect for multiple years, first practice open communication and get input. Then clearly communicate the change (new process, updated equipment, etc.) and why it’s taking place. Offer training and support as needed. These steps will help ensure change is adopted without a hitch.

Challenge
Not challenging older generations in the workplace is a mistake. Some managers assume boomers feel settled and happy where they are, or are just working a few more years until retirement. Don’t dismiss their valuable skills due to these assumptions! Boomers appreciate new challenges and career growth as much as younger generations. Increased responsibility and the chance to have a voice in the workplace will motivate this generation greatly.