Working Generations, Young and Old


Allen F. Weitzel

Allen F. Weitzel

Business success requires workers of all ages and experience.  In this world of political correctness, technology and social media, getting different age groups of workers to mix and work well together is not easy.  Here are some procedures that can smooth out that process.


Starting Up


At my first park, each director interviewed their own new hires.  We were building and maintaining our teams.  We would be assigning the work and we needed our crews to jell to be effective.  We did not mistrust the HR Department, but we wanted control over the selection of workers that would impact the specifics of our departments.  We interviewed for good, cooperative workers and put less emphasis on age.  That message was critical to the hiring process.  The procedure paid off.   When the new hire saw that the department head was hand picking the staff, they understood they were a critical part of the team.


Retraining for Veterans


Unity should be the message during all training.  The trainers could be of varied ages, but all must be skilled and dedicated.  One practice I required was the retraining of all employees, including long term employees, every 24 months.  With new procedures, technology and employees constantly entering the operation, you must keep all employees up to speed.  All employees must hear the same message.  The company should also address basic cultural procedures that all employees should respect. Many generational and cultural issues can be handled in new employee orientation, procedure manuals and mandatory retraining.



Check Those Egos


Managers and supervisors must watch for and address situations where workers put their egos ahead of teamwork or begin to favor workers near their own age.   Do not let a young supervisor become elated by their title.  Do not allow veteran employees to become know-it-alls or parent figures to younger workers.  It is about the work, not about age.


I had a 22-year-old supervisor who was trained to oversee our merchandise department on my days off.  A 50-year-old female supervisor of our General Store felt she should oversee the whole department based on her age and longevity.  I met with both women together and separately.  I was clear about my decision.  My young supervisor was in charge of the entire department in my absence.  Privately, I told the supervisor to avoid micro-managing the General Store operation unless a serious problem arose.  Once the veteran realized that the younger supervisor was capable, harmony returned.


Different Languages


Clearly, the younger generations have their own language stemming from ‘internet talk.’  The company must be clear about where, how much and when such communication is permissible.


Another park I worked for required that when employees were around other employees and guests, only English would be spoken, but it was never enforced by management or HR.  Departments ended up with several different procedures and employee groups based upon the native language spoken.  This lead to rookie managers ignoring problems or not engaging in dialogue with all employees equally.  This poor communication was a contributing factor in two fall-from-height OSHA incidents that we experienced.  Managers allowed marginally trained employees to handle unfamiliar situations unsupervised.  One incident involved a senior employee and in the other case, the injured employee was a young staffer.  Luckily, both workers survived. Managers must get out of their office and make sure all employees and generations are communicating clearly.  All leadership levels must lead by example.  An old statement, but still true.


Age Pros and Cons


Learn the pros and cons of every age group in your employee roster and address what they bring to the table.  Younger workers bring excitement and energy to work.  They are normally more fit and can handle physical tasks with ease.  Older workers have work and life experience and can educate younger workers about the cause and effect results surrounding procedures. They can explain what could go right or wrong in many scenarios.  A mix of ages could also mean that employees may have different scheduling needs.  These needs could off-set each other or could become a headache.  Supervisors must be trained to understand how to manage the staff around these scheduling needs in an unbiased manner.


Taking Action


Do not be afraid to retrain or release unfit employees regardless of age. Do so promptly, as it can demoralize the other workers and erode your message of teamwork if you act slowly.  It is difficult to do when addressing a long term employee and you want to give them second chances to turn their attitude around.  Let them go gracefully, but do not prolong the action. Always confer with your HR Department before releasing any worker.


Never Ending


Clearly, generational communication responsibility falls upon leadership to make these interactions work.  Just as you must supervise employees to follow safe practices and company procedures, a range of ages in workers requires close supervision.  Understand that the task is a journey not a destination.  You will never reach complete harmony.  Constant training, equal retraining and reminders are the keys to success in making and mixing a well-oiled team, regardless of age or beliefs.  It is all about the on-going culture of the entire company, not merely problem solving one or two employee disputes.

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