Years ago, in one of my early management roles, I supervised an employee named Martha. Martha was memorable because she’d been in the department and organization for a very long time AND she carried a huge chip on her shoulder. I was a new supervisor and in one of our early interactions, I suggested an alternate approach to one of our processes. She immediately jumped in with: “Tried that bright idea five years ago. Didn’t work then, won’t work now!” Now you no doubt have come across one or two of your own versions of Martha in the workplace. Loosely defined, these are employees who have a great deal of experience, and who have been with an organization for quite a while. They’ve seen supervisors and managers come and go; many times they’ve trained those very people only to see them move on to greener pastures. If they have chips on their shoulders, it’s likely because their experience has been under-utilized and under-appreciated. Yet, it’s these experienced employees that can be a valuable resource to you and your department IF you can find a way to capitalize on their strengths.
Here’s one idea. Acknowledge their experience. They need to hear it from you. They’ve heard the education vs. experience storyline before and they often see themselves as getting the raw end of that deal! The truth is that experience is education, and if you, as a leader, cannot appreciate the value of experience, then you’re setting yourself up for ongoing failure with your more experienced employees. But it isn’t good enough to just know this; you have to tell them. Verbalize this sentiment: tell them you recognize and value the experience they bring, and that you’d like the benefit of their knowledge as you continue. Don’t be afraid to repeat it.
What are you doing to tap into the knowledge and experience of your older more experienced employees?
Dear Merge and Team:
I am impressed that someone will at last write an article such as this and address this issue in workplace. For 7 years, I have working in contracting positions because I feel employers are discriminating against age. Employers want experienced staff to come into their organization, set up systems, get procedures running smoothly and then hire a younger staff who eventually mess up these systems and run the organization in an inefficient manner.
Please continue to be the voice as you hold the marketshare in society. I wish government would listen to this dilemna. This pattern is seen more in hospital/governmental organizations. It is amazing that the leaders in these systems are older yet they shun “older support staff”.
Thanks for your comment Evelyn, I share your frustration! It boggles my mind that there are still managers out there who don’t get it! They simply don’t get the value that older more experienced employees bring to their departments and teams and they lose out on such great potential! In the good news department though, you should know that for every manager I come across that doesn’t get it, I also meet the leaders that do. There ARE leaders out there who not only value the strengths and talents of older workers, but also work hard to attract and retain them. So please keep looking, there are great leaders out there … it just seems like you’ll have to go through several toads before you’ll finally find the prince!! Keep me posted.
Dear Merge: Need some help in how this organization do their business. Joined a healthcare the latter part of last year for a 1 year contract. This week, the contract was terminated stated that due to transitions within the organization, the position (mat leave coverage) no longer existed. One part of this story is true in that the reporting head has had her job re-evaluated to one that does not need an admin support. The other VP that I was transitioned to support during a 1.5 month now hired her own assistant despite she informed me that she did not need an admin person.
What do you make of an organization that hires someone, and then leave that employee floating without a boat?
Evelyn, it sounds to me that there’s some political stuff going on here, and that they were trying to find a slot for someone who needed a job. Unfortunately, politics are a reality in organizations. The key here is to develop relationships that will stand you in good stead when “stuff” happens. From what you’ve said, it looks like there was a reorganization and the VP’s assistant needed a “spot”. She clearly had a good past relationship with the VP which meant that someone was pushing to find her a job. I don’t think this one had to do with ageism.