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Everything Old is New Again


http://www.sasrlink.comIt isn’t as if there was never a time when retail owners or managers weren’t younger than an employee or two – it just wasn’t the usual state of affairs.  Today we’ve got a whole “new economy” that’s brought with it tremendous change.  Once of the things that’s changed is the fact that it is now commonplace for The Boss not only to be younger, but from an entirely different generation. 

If you’re a bean counter type who needs numbers to be convinced of the veracity of a claim try this:  A 2010 poll conducted by Career Builder of 5200 workers indicated that 43% of workers over the age of 35 had younger managers, while a whopping 69% of workers 55 and older were reporting to managers in the same age range as their children.  While this data may be two years old, those numbers are only going to get higher as displaced older workers move into the retail service sector.    

This can make things pretty interesting for the young retail boss managing an older retail employee – and vice versa. 

We Can Work it Out

The song “We Can Work it Out” by the Beatles offers some sage advice to young retail owners and managers:  it is possible to work things out – but only when you are willing to give the same weight to the other person’s perspective as you do your own. 

So, let’s take a look at a few reasons workers responding to the Career Builder poll gave as why working for someone younger could be such a challenge:

  • They act like they know more than me when they don’t 
  • They act like they’re entitled and didn’t earn their position
  • They micromanage
  • They don’t give me enough direction

They act like they know more than me when they don’t.  People tend to assume certain characteristics and qualities of people of certain groups, such as people who are older than them.  For instance, a young boss might assume that older employees aren’t familiar with technology or how to use it – especially when it comes to social digital messaging (think Facebook and Twitter) as well as learning new programs and the like. 

This actually isn’t true.  What is true is that many young bosses see social media as absolutely necessary whereas their older employees view it as more of a value add.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  A 60-year-old employee’s parent most likely still wrote letters instead of always picking up the phone because they were brought up in a world where phones were not a part of their everyday lives – but that didn’t mean they didn’t know how to use the phone.

A young retail boss may also think their older workers are “slow to learn.”  This is most often due to the fact that the older worker has a different learning style than their younger boss.  The young boss grew up with technology and is used to figuring out new programs and platforms on their own while their older employees are often more used to “classroom style” learning and prefer being “taught.”  Both represent the ability to learn – just in different ways.   

They act like they’re entitled and didn’t earn their position.  To the young boss or ambitious young retail owner this can sound like sour grapes on the part of their older employee.  However, once again as the Beatles say, “Try to see it my way.”  Today the older employee is likely to have been displaced from a management position themselves.  On top of that, they’ve got a point:  it likely took them quite a while to advance to a management level.

Young retail managers are generally hired for the very reasons cited when we discussed “They act like they know more than me when they don’t.”  Retail owners doing the hiring understand the value of what the younger manager brings to the table and how that can increase profitability.  In addition, retail owners tend to hire younger managers because they perceive them to be willing to work hard for lower salaries than an older worker would expect.

What the young manager or retail owner can take away from this is to be sensitive to the reality of their older worker’s history.  A willingness to listen to, and leverage, the knowledge base of older workers goes a long way when it comes to bridging the “respect” gap between younger managers and older workers.       

They Micromanage – They Don’t Give Me Enough Direction.  The young retail manager or retail owner may wonder how both of these things can be true in the eyes of their older workers. 

Stephenie Overman in a 2011 article on CNN Money gives us a great example of micromanaging with the example of Janis Grovner:  “Her boss was not an experienced manager, Grover says, "and wasn't able to ask for assistance. She wouldn't take any advice. She was competing with us. She was fighting with a 60-year-old secretary on how to write a form."

Now that’s definitely micromanaging. 

On the other hand, you just have to go back to our example of how older workers like to be “taught” versus attempt DIY projects.  Older workers also place more value on face-to-face meetings and consistent feedback from their bosses – something their young bosses may fail to understand as their style is to take on a project and run with it.   Failure to provide feedback or meet with older workers regularly can make the younger boss appear to be failing to provide direction.

In a sense the Young Boss/Older Worker is a perfect example that proves the euphemism “Everything old is new again.”  Young bosses can learn new things from their older employees and vice versa – especially when both groups “Try to see it my way.”  


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