Leadership & An Aging Workforce

It is an honor for me to have so many of you visit my blog, post comments, and ‘follow’ me via RSS or Twitter.  Another great honor is to have experts in the field of Leadership and/or Project Management contribute to Kelly’s Contemplation.  This week, Janice Krupic provides insight into a growing and important trend in the workplace…An Aging Workforce.

People are living longer and retiring older. According to Gallup research “More than a third of nonretirees today say they will retire after age 65, compared with 12% in 1995.” This is an important shift that all organizations must react to. Now more than ever organizations must understand the corporate culture of supporting multiple generations, how they can work together in the most productive and supportive atmosphere without the threat of being pushed out.

Consider what your older employees are struggling with as they assess their career path beyond 65 years old. Michael Schrage of the Harvard Business Review frankly asks the tough questions that all workers over 60 need to be able to answer:

“What do you think your workday will look like when you’re 70? Are you comfortable with the probability that you will be managing employees younger than your grandchildren? Temperamentally, do you think you’ll add more value as a mentor, a partner, or part-timer? More important, what will your (much) younger boss think? Do you honestly believe that, when you have to work five more years than anticipated, you can get away with not being more facile, adept, and productive with emerging technologies?”

But these uncertainties are not limited to the more seasoned employees. Young employees worry about their career path if succession strategies are not opening up as planned to allow for others to move into roles. Gen Y and Millennial employees are apt to leave a position if they do not see any opportunities for advancement.  How will you retain young talent while preserving matured talent?

These questions may make you squirm, or excite you, depending on how you see this changing culture as a manager. Companies must dive into these challenges with innovative solutions. One trend in mentoring that addresses this need is cross-generational training and mentoring, where a senior and junior employee work together to teach each other new skills. Older employees have years of business experience and seasoned approaches to issues that could help younger employees understand strong work ethic and appropriate issue management skills. In exchange, the younger employees can share their ideas on collaboration and integrating technology in everyday work, a skill brought about by these “digital natives” that grew up online. Beyond sharing their unique ideas on business, all employees involved get the opportunity to add value to the company as a whole, which, as a manager, is an integral part of supporting a successful business.

Ellen Weber of MITA International Brain Center has taken a more cerebral approach to supporting your aging employees. Her research is based on the idea that older employees need to be stimulated through their working memory, through their years of experience. She gives eight strategies for engaging older employees and nurturing their success.

  1. Find stimulating solutions for workplace problems by suggesting people propose solutions for any problems named at work.
  2. Listen to music that increases focus and raises opportunitiies to invent, by changing brain wave speeds and impacting moods.
  3. Recognize how regular workplace routines rewire the brain for doldrums daily and can literally shrink gray matter, while innovative tasks reconfigure brains for leading improvements at any age.
  4. Benefit from the advantages of diversity, that researchers such as Cedric Herring (2009) shows can increase business sales and advance revenue.
  5. Hook new facts onto what they already know or do, to activate the frontal section of their brains as a switch from learning into remembering modes in brief periods of time.
  6. Chase after “aha” moments that lead to new neuron pathways toward novel solutions that advance workplace innovations.
  7. Engage others actively and continue to learn and teach from multiple intelligences – while at the same time running from old school lectures that work against human brainpower.
  8. Capitalize on the unique differences between men’s and women’s brains in ways that value the dynamic differences in both.

As a leader, it is important to understand employees’ needs, concerns, and goals. Use tools such as industry research, mentoring, and coaching to support your employees and bring out their best qualities. Everyone that is dedicated to a company has skills and ideas that they want to share. They recognize a supportive manager that nurtures these ideas by giving them an influential platform on which to share. Leaders must recognize the importance of aligning work with employee’s motivators, no matter what age.  When employees are motivated, their level of satisfaction increases.  When satisfaction increases, the level of performance increases.  It is a win for the employees and the organization!

Janice Krupic, CEO of Paragon Leadership, is a business owner, executive coach and author who is committed to helping develop the ‘future face of leadership’. Paragon Leadership International helps organizations become more competitive and reach their financial goals by developing their leaders through innovative and results based coaching consulting.

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