During a recent coaching session, an executive complained of a phenomenon in her company that is limiting revenue growth: younger employees’ poor sales skills. We explored a number of possible reasons for this ranging from inadequate hiring practices to the need for better training to improved mentoring of younger employees. All had been tried, with little success. According to this executive, the problem goes beyond her company; she feels it is an industry-wide issue.
We discussed how prolonging the working life of older employees might mitigate the extent of the problem, at least in the short-term. This would involve effectively managing the strengths of older employees, leveraging their talents and their energies. I believe the following themes are relevant:
Intellectual: Self-awareness is the necessary first step. Older employees must acknowledge to themselves that they no longer have the energy and resiliency they once had. Ideally, these employees would also acknowledge their age-related limitations to their bosses. This requires uncommon courage on their part and genuine openness on the part of employers, which still few seem to have. Frequently, older employees are no longer able to do what they easily did only a few years earlier. To be successful, they must analyse their limitations and manage them.
Physical: Earlier in their careers, these employees responded to stress in the work place by working harder and longer. Often, they exercised little or not at all. No time, they said. Then they would wolf down the wrong food at irregular hours. And, often, they would get insufficient sleep. “Who needs sleep?” They were resilient; they were young. Now health suffers. They must work hard to sustain their bodies in order to be effective.
Emotional: As they age, many employees become preoccupied with fears and concerns, mostly (but not exclusively) financial: How will I survive “retirement”? This self-absorption drains energy and impedes performance; they have less energy for positive action. Yet, positive action leads to creativity and resilience, and helps alleviate the isolation many feel. It is central to an active and productive work life.
Purpose: Purpose is the source of energy, focus and power. Our spirit is renewed when we reconnect to our sense of purpose and to our deepest professional and personal values. This translates itself at the most basic level by telling the truth to ourselves about ourselves: Do I still want to work for this organization? Am I happy? Purpose enables us to live and work with passion, and to reach for our dreams. It is transformative.
Self-awareness, physical and emotional well-being, and purpose are necessary components to effectively manage the strengths of older employees, and to leverage their talents and their energies. But, leveraging older employees to mitigate the shortcomings of younger ones is a short term solution. Older employees will at one point be unable to work and have to be replaced. Real solutions still need to be found… I plan to write more on this topic in the coming months.