How to Manage Older Tech Workers

Older Worker

If you’re a younger manager, you’re bound to confront extra challenges in managing a tech team: Wrangling others gets easier with experience, but you’re probably still picking up some tricks, and sometimes older workers balk at the idea of working for someone who doesn’t have a resume as deep as theirs. Here’s some approaches that can help you bridge the generational gap.

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Meet the Challenge Head-On

First, acknowledge the challenges in managing older tech workers, says Josh Greenberg, CTO of Grooveshark, a digital music distribution platform based in Gainesville, Fla. “All of your employees can’t be young,” he notes.

You may have a knee-jerk reaction to hire people like you. After all, you’re comfortable with them. But if you’re constantly looking for younger people to fill out the project team, the company will miss out on seasoned perspectives. “It’s reasonable to expect that you don’t have the expertise of the older person,” Greenberg says. “They’ve been doing it longer and you have to acknowledge the experience.”

Avoid Preconceived Notions

Next, be prepared to be surprised. People have preconceived notions about most every age group, and it’s best to avoid falling into that trap. “Subjectively evaluate people as individuals,” suggests Doug Schade, a principal consultant for search firm WinterWyman. “Throw out your assumptions of older workers, whether it’s thinking they’re more loyal and dependable or more difficult to train.”

Despite what you might think, you’ll find plenty of common ground with older workers, Greenberg maintains. “You can find personality matches that span the age gap. Make sure the vibe is right, and you’ll find there are plenty of older tech pros looking for work in the field,” he says. “Some of the people in my company are double my age.”

Work on the Relationship

Respect is always a good way to get people working hard for you, observes Jennifer Selby Long, founder and principal at Oakland-based consulting firm Selby Group. So, give it and get it.

Respect the working style of your older employees when you can. Recognize that they’re pretty self-sufficient. “They’re not always looking for mentors as much as they’re looking for advocates,” Long says. “They want to have a manager who can help ‘relationship build’ with partners in other tech organizations and especially in other divisions of the company, like IT and security.”

Capitalize on Generational Differences

Understand how people work. According to Lynn Berger, a career coach based in Manhattan, it’s smart to respect different approaches and figure out the most effective ways to communicate. Older employees might prefer face-to-face meetings, for example. “There’s a flexibility that a younger generation of tech worker might like that an older person might not readily embrace,” she says. Meet people halfway and they’re more likely to buy into your approach.

Be Upfront From the Start

Probably the best way to avoid managerial headaches is to communicate well in the hiring process. “Mid-career professionals are probably used to working in larger companies and that’s very different than working at a smaller company or startup,” says Berger. “People have to understand there’s a mutual usefulness of opposite types. Advertise what the company is about. Some older employees work well with younger bosses, and some fall apart.” In other words, she says, let people know what they’re getting into.

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