Old and in the Way

By Robert Goldman

August 10, 2017 6 min read

There's nothing wrong with getting old.

Except for the wrinkled skin, the sagging flesh, the aching joints, the minimal memory, and the hobbling shuffle as you rush to the bathroom 15 times a day, getting old is a blast.

What's not so great for oldsters in the workplace is a young punk of a supervisor without their experience, their knowledge or their osteoporosis.

"How to Successfully Manage People Who Are Older Than You" is Moira Lawler's recent post on Monster.com.

While the optimistic Lawler focuses on helping youngsters, who she believes "can be successful in your role even when you're managing people decades older than you," she underestimates the skills of old-timers.

After clinging to a job until you're positively primordial, like 40, many have developed survival skills that could make it difficult for a 20-something boss to boss them around.

Let's take a look at the lessons Lawler provides, and see if we can tune them up for maximum effectiveness.

Consider suggestion No. 1 — that the young manager "be humble."

"You may feel like you need to validate in your advanced position," Lawler writes. "But rattling off your impressive resume could come off as bragging."

I totally agree. Explain that even though you know very little about business, your degree in art history so impressed Dad that he instantly promoted you to the top level of management in his company.

With credentials like that, not even a septuagenarian could doubt your abilities.

When managing an older workforce, young supervisors are also encouraged to "understand how they like to communicate."

While young managers prefer to get right to the point, geezers "might be used to spending the first few minutes of every meeting chit-chatting about the weather."

"Pay attention to the pace they're used to and cater your style when appropriate," echoes Chip Espinoza, Ph.D., an expert on generational diversity in the workplace.

For example, start a meeting with "isn't it a lovely day for a meeting in the neighborhood? Let's start with snack time. We've provided everyone with a nice bowl of bran flakes and a big glass of Metamucil. We'll begin the meeting when the big hand is on the 12 and the small hand is on the 9."

Young managers are also encouraged to "avoid communicating between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless absolutely necessary." This is because "the older generation tends to divide work and life more than young people do." Besides, that's when they watch re-runs of "Dharma & Greg."

I recommend you think positive. A few unnecessary 3 a.m. phone calls may result in your older workers having massive heart attacks, which means they can be quickly replaced with more malleable 16-year-olds.

Young managers are advised to "learn from your older employees" before you sack them.

"They may have the corporate culture knowledge that you need to be successful," says Tracy C. Jones, a career counselor.

True that! It may be worth keeping one old coot around simply to teach you how to rig the soda machine to serve diet prune juice.

As pathetic as the efforts of the seniors in your team may be, Chip Espinoza recommends that you "resist the urge to do their work for them." This may be difficult when a senior worker wants to know "what's this thingee on my desk with a keyboard and a magic screen?"

Be honest. Explain that it's part of the company's zombie attack monitoring system. If the screen lights up when they hit a key, flesh-eating zombies are in the building. They should run immediately to personnel, where an HR professional will take their card keys and process their final checks.

Whatever the young manager does, it is recommended that she or he doesn't "just swoop in on day one and change everything."

This makes perfect sense. It is so much more effective to wait until day two to swoop, as your senior employees will be lulled into thinking the new regime is going to be OK.

The seniors will be so shocked and depressed they will quit immediately, and you can replace your old losers with a bunch of young hard-chargers.

Unfortunately, that will make you the older worker, and all the young punks you hired will be trying to manage you. By that time, you may be ready to quit, too.

Before you go, just make sure to get your bran flakes and Metamucil. It's definitely what Tee Grizzley would do.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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