Authored by: iHR Australia

While generational stereotypes may not be fixed overnight, effective strides in managing performance can incur long-term growth.

Managing performance

Australians are living longer and working later into their lives. The workforce is increasingly operating as a multigenerational environment. With up to five generations working together, a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment, engagement, communication, or performance management is ineffective.

As the nature of work changes, so too does the role of a manager and their approach to managing performance. However, clashes in perspectives may arise when new, young managers (Gen Z or Zoomers) are handed the baton of leadership to oversee management of more experienced employees.

With Gen Z entering the workforce and taking on management roles, traditional performance management methods are less effective, as 13% of Gen Z employees do not respond to conventional management practices, as stated in this 2023 article. Besides, Gen Zs prefer leaders who are ‘directive,’ ‘collaborative’, and ‘semi-formal’, which isn’t historically what performance management has stood for.

Leadership Coach and Senior Facilitator, Bronwyn Dennis says, “mature employees may not have experienced a culture of regular feedback in their years of being in the workforce.”

Given the contrasting perspectives on managing performance, it can be especially challenging when a young manager takes on a leadership role with ideas that differ significantly from those of seasoned employees.

To navigate this generational gap in managing performance, we consulted with Ms. Dennis who not only highlights familiar challenges that young managers and mature employees face but provides ways to find common ground and consider leadership training to help overcome such differences.

The complications with ageism still present

In 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) found that over 19% of businesses have more than half of their workforce over 50 years old. This means there are workplaces where four, even five generations coexist. The study also found that the age at which workers are considered ‘mature’ is turning out to be progressively younger, and about a quarter of Australian businesses cite reluctance at hiring mature employees.

This form of discriminatory prejudice termed ‘ageism’ — bias against mature employees through the refusal of their rights, needs, dignity, contributions, and value — continues to be highly prevalent in many workplaces.

The Way Forward: Debunking Mature Employee Myths

Myth: Mature employees are resistant to change.

“In my years of mentoring young managers, I’ve found this to be the most common.”

However, “comfort level with change is more of an intrinsic component of somebody’s makeup than necessarily an age factor,” says Ms. Dennis.

Everyone has various levels of comfort with change, it is important for younger managers to realise that being resistant towards change “is not just an older worker thing,” she clarifies.

As a mature employee herself, she reflects on her experiences and finds herself getting “quite easily bored when the day-to-day looks too mundane” and prefers to be continually challenged, and gains satisfaction from looking for continuous improvement.

“I personally love change, and that’s always been a part of how I operate in the workforce.”

Myth: Mature employees are incompetent in adapting to technology

Similarly, another jarring assumption that is often associated with mature employees is a perceived lack of skills or ‘incompetency’ in adapting to technology.

Ms. Dennis agrees that technological transformation, especially that enabled by AI, is remarkable. Younger workers may be more tech-savvy due to their daily exposure to technology, but with Millennials and Gen-Z being ‘digital natives’ they may forget that we did not all grow up with computers on our desks, or in our hands, and that comfort with and expertise may vary as a result, Ms. Dennis believes.

She recommends young managers put themselves in the shoes of their mature workers and “provide them with the training and support that they would give anybody else to help them attain confidence in technology.”

LinkedIn AI poll

Myth: Mature employees don’t wish to take on responsibilities

While resistance to technology is a common assumption, a few other misconceptions include, more likely to take sick leave, ready to exit the workforce, or not interested in career development.

To this, Ms. Dennis emphasises that “everybody can have health or career issues at different times in their life, and we should not be discriminating or judging these situations based on individual circumstances rather than categorising everyone into a group.”

Whether it is a young manager and mature worker or vice versa, “it’s about establishing trust within the team, no matter where that diversity comes from — be it generational, cultural, or gender-based.”

“Don’t assume that the reason someone didn’t do something is because of their age,” clarifies Ms. Dennis.

As much as there are lingering cliches about mature employees, younger managers also undergo various challenges in the workplace.  They may be expected to “step into the management role” without having had much training, mentoring, or support.

Young managers need role modelling to succeed at managing performance

Performance management has evolved significantly over the past 20-30 years. Organisations are shifting from rigid annual or semi-annual reviews to a more flexible, yet humane approach focused on managing ‘for’ performance rather than managing ‘poor’ performance.

Effective performance management strategies require continuous relationship building and nurturing between the employer and the employee.

“And for mature workers, it may not necessarily be a familiar concept.”

“When they hear the word ‘performance’ or ‘managing performance’ it may have traditionally been a negative thing for them, so they may not be comfortable with receiving feedback in the same way that a younger worker might be,” says Ms. Dennis.

It can be a challenge for first-time managers to step into a leadership role with peers or more experienced workers, and they may struggle with gaining respect and trust. Ms Dennis also observed that being assertive could be a challenge and that new managers “may also be reluctant to reflect on their own level of comfort with conflict, having difficult conversations, or providing feedback to their team.”

This avoidance can make it harder to form genuine bonds with their team and to create trust in the workplace, highlights Ms. Dennis.

“Sometimes there’s a reluctance for them to step into that role of authority when they need to, and they might potentially say things like, I don’t want to be seen as the manager; I just want to be part of the team.

Ms. Dennis explains, “Being a collaborative, team-based leader is a valuable skill, but there are times when you need to make decisions or have challenging conversations.”

She highlights that a sense of credibility and respect can be established if younger managers are willing to be genuine in their approach to managing others and demonstrate strong leadership behaviours that are built on:

  • Setting clear expectations
  • Establishing boundaries and respect
  • Being open and vulnerable about their own challenges and learning opportunities
  • Understanding individual motivation levels
  • Preferred communication styles

Gaining such intricate leadership skills can take time and experience, however leadership training and coaching can be an important component of developing your sense of what sort of leader you aspire to be, and reflecting on what you need to work on to get there

“You know, credibility also comes from moving past the mindset that you have to listen to me because I’m the boss, but rather being able to share with that mature worker your experiences, strengths and challenges and developing genuine respect so that you’re delivering without coming across as condescending or belittling,” Ms. Dennis advises.

What mature employees need to bring to the table

Ms. Dennis encourages mature-aged employees to come to work with a clear sense of their career goals, being open to building constructive relationships with younger workers and managers, being clear about their preferences for leadership and communication styles and being open to exchanging ideas for overcoming obstacles.

This fosters a mutual, two-way street of performance management.

“Open yourself up to the idea that there are distinctive styles of leadership, workplaces are evolving, and give that person across the table an opportunity to prove themselves, and learn what they bring to the table,” says Ms. Dennis.

Missing piece in managing performance: The mindset 

While challenges with these generational differences and stereotypes might not be able to be fixed overnight, making effective strides in the right direction will start a process for long-term improvements, that will benefit both the young manager and the mature employee.

Here are three ways a fresh mindset on performance management can bridge generational differences, and fit the missing piece in the puzzle, as advised by Ms. Dennis:

1. Bring respect and empathy to the discussion

As a first step to leading a team, Ms. Dennis advises young managers to start by getting to know the team on a personal level. This can be established by consistently putting in the work to understand and value the input that a mature employee has to offer. Whether it is what they’ve mastered in their career to date, their preferences for effective leadership styles, or ideas on process improvements, Ms. Dennis advises young managers to avoid “downplaying mature employees’ experiences.”

2. Be self-reflective and understanding of your own management style

A flexible, or open mindset about the differing needs of workers can help young managers become adaptable and transparent in the ways they interact with their team. The onus is on managers to understand the nuances of responding to different team members, as Ms. Dennis says, “not everyone responds the same way.” Therefore, being flexible in one’s leadership style to be able to meet the needs of each of the staff can significantly improve the level of trust and communication with a multi-generational workforce.

3. Recognise preferred communication channels of your employee

Having not just open, but multiple communication channels, to reflect your respect for how people respond to different communication styles will indicate that ‘you are listening to your team’.

“I will say myself, as a mature worker, I found it hard to get used to instant messaging”, laughs Ms. Dennis.

“I would be in the middle of presenting or in an executive meeting, and I’d have messages popping up on my screen. And that could be really distracting for me,” she shares.

Just being aware that people have different preferences, and as leaders it’s crucial to celebrate and honour those differences.

What happens next

It’s important that your new managers are supported in their roles with the right tools and knowledge to manage their more mature, experienced employees.

Consider the following training courses:

  1. Stepping up leadership training for new managers
  2. Managing performance training for leaders at all levels
  3. Anti discrimination, bullying and harassment training for managers.

Our consulting and one-on-one coaching can be a great starting point for first-time managers to gain a nuanced approach to managing team performance and learn through tailored solutions to implement it in their workplace.

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