Older workers and younger managers

This is the first generation in which a majority of younger managers and supervisors, in their 30s and early 40s, are commonly managing groups of people, of whom half or more are from their parents’ generation. Commonly, the younger manager has no concept of what it feels like to live with chronic pain and the effect that this has on performance and on a worker’s enjoyment of work.

Research has shown that managers rate older job applicants as less economically beneficial to the organization than younger applicants.41 The older worker is sometimes seen by the younger manager as being slow, work-shy, uncooperative, and resistant to change. The younger manager, in turn, is sometimes seen as unpredictable, overbearing, inconsistent, and arrogant. Inflexible handling of misunderstandings by the younger manager can lead to resentment, mistrust, and, ultimately, demotivation. Older workers may fear for their job security, especially if already coping with discomfort and disability associated with long-standing degenerative illness, either in themselves or in a spouse or partner.

This can lead to emotional crisis or depression and, commonly, to sickness absence. Aggressive or blame cultures can exacerbate such situations. Individual productivity inevitably suffers. In an ageing population, such situations may occur more frequently in the future. All parties can benefit from improved training in communication, conflict resolution, and in improved knowledge and understanding of the strengths, capabilities, and reasonable expectations of different age groups. The occupational health practitioner will often require patience and great sensitivity in such situations (assisted by human resources staff and expert counselling services, as necessary), to re-establish the older worker’s self-esteem, if prolonged sickness absence is to be avoided.

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