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pallen123's avatar

Exercise to get younger and older worker working well together?

Asked by pallen123 (1507 points ) September 23rd, 2011

I am new to a position where I am managing a small organization with only four other employees. Two of the employees have been “working” together for a few months but haven’t been getting along well. They haven’t had anyone around in a leadership position (the home office is far away) and these two have been building resentment toward each other. One is a young, 25 yr old Puerto Rican from the inner city and the other is a 55 year old white woman from the East Coast. The older worker is much more experienced than the younger but the younger was told that the older one was to be the office “administrative assistance” which she took as her license to be bossy and condescending to the older worker. The older worker found this intolerable from the start but was unable to get anyone from the home office to help resolve. Meantime the older worker, because she needed the job, did her best to follow the orders of the other worker. The younger worker is an attractive, somewhat narcissistic, type with little insight into her relative lack of experience. Bottom line, the younger worker has been barking orders at the older one for awhile and it boiled over a couple days into my new job. I sat them both down and said we’d try to work together to mend fences but that they both needed to dig deep and think hard about how they could meet the other more than halfway—because if we’re not able to resolve the issues one of them would have to go within a couple weeks.

I’d like to offer more than just threats and opportunities to sit and talk about communicating and feelings. Is there some kind of HR exercise that’s especially effective at getting two people from different backgrounds and that have had some ill feelings about working with each other, start to collaborate more effectively?

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18 Answers

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Facade's avatar

I think doing something that involves learning to respect others would be beneficial.

Judi's avatar

It seems like the younger worker is in the wrong here. Why would you punish or chastise the older worker for the younger workers bad attitude?

Make it clear to the younger worker that you appreciate her willingness to take charge, but she is NOT in charge. She and her co workers are equal, and due mutual respect. If she is unable to give the respect that her co worker is due, then maybe this job isn’t the right fit for her.

Pandora's avatar

I think that your may be looking at this all wrong. I’ve often noticed a trend with both older and younger workers. The older worker feels like their ideas are ignored because they are getting old and my be set in their ways.
The younger worker will feel the same. Eager to prove themselves and not be doubted because they lack experience.
You need to teach them each that there are ways for them to work together.
The younger worker can learn from years of experience the older worker has and the older worker can learn to stretch their imagination a little.
I had a boss that was older and more experienced. I realized her need not to feel obsolete but at the same time my hunger to try new things and get up to par quickly was pushing her in directions she wasn’t ready for.
Her approach to things, was don’t rock the boat which can happen as a person nears retirement.
My approach was rock it a little and see where there might be holes to patch up.
Combined we finally worked well together. Apart we probably would’ve imploded. We needed each other to balance out. I would maybe take them seperately and sit them down and make them understand that personal issues need to be left at home and they need to understand how they can benefit each other to help the company grow.
I think you may be jumping to a conclusion about the younger person. She may feel the older workers behavior is passive aggressive and she simply doesn’t have the tools yet to know how to deal with someone like that.
I’ve also been the older worker and seen young people be dismissed by older people or treated with passive aggressive behavior because they feel they don’t know anything, or they feel threatened by their knowledge.
My boss use to always acuse me of wanting her job. Which I did not. I simply didn’t want to also have to take the long round about way to get somewhere because she was afraid to try something new. It can lead to fustration on both sides.
Maybe you should ask each of them what do they think the other person thinks of them.
Bet they both say that the other person thinks they are stupid or naive or slow.
Then you may learn if it has more to do with them feeling insecure or if someone is really out to push the other person out.

Cruiser's avatar

Pot luck lunches work wonders. Breaking bread with anyone knocks down barriers big time. Offer to pay for the main course and invite each employee to bring a side. We do this every 2 weeks and it is HUGE in terms of enabling people to rub elbows who other wise barely interact. Invite S/O’s and children to join you when ever possible too!

dreamwolf's avatar

Can you legally fire them just because they don’t like eachother? jw, also, i understand they have tension, how is it deficient to the work being done?

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JLeslie's avatar

Was the older person basically demoted? Or, at minimum she feels it is a demotion. She had more authority previously? Probably no matter what the age or ethnicity of the other person she would feel a little annoyed. Even worse the young woman has no empathy or understanding for how; well, degrading and ignored the older woman must feel for her experience and talents.

Is the older woman able to organize her day and have some autonomy, or is the younger one trying to watch every single minute of what is being done? If the younger is trying to micro manage, that is even worse.

I several times managed older people, I was in my 20’s and they in their 50’s and 60’s, and they had way more experience than me in that department, and they taught me. I valued their opinion and their hard work and I made sure they knew it. Sure eventually I made some changes, but it was after they trusted me and had a strong loyalty to me. We were a team, not just manager and staff. I frequently helped them when their work load was overwhelming, they saw I did not treat their position as less than, but that I had enormous respect for them, and appreciated their hard work.

Maybe the young woman needs a management class?

Another suggestion, ask the older woman what would make things better for her, I bet she will suggest something very reasonable. Do it without the young person there, let the older woman vent.

I have seen young people be awful to older workers and I think it is disgraceful. Having worked in FL for many years, and having worked with many people who were olderm and many already retired an on a second career, they were some of the most reliable hard working people on my staff. They typically wanted to help younger coworkers, because they were not competitve in their careers.

Not sure my answer helped, I was kind of all over the map, because I don’t know the exact dynamic in the office of course.

JLeslie's avatar

@dreamwolf Yes, in a small office someone can be fired for any reason. Also, in an at will state people can be fired for any reason, even in large companies, Legally they can, it might not be right ethically.

marinelife's avatar

First, straighten out the lines of authority. Does the younger work have the right to order the older worker around? If not, make that clear to both of them at the same time.

Next, I like the idea of a putluck lunch as @Cruiser suggested. I would ask that they each bring a die dish that represents them in some way. Then, while eating, talk about the side dished. You bring one too and lead off.

JLeslie's avatar

Pot luck for two employees? I never would think of that. How about treat them to lunch.

Cruiser's avatar

@JLeslie Apparently there is a total of 5 employees there and that is more than enough to have an intimate and enjoyable “pot-luck” experience. We have 8 at my company and I could see how the more there are the less intimate the experience.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cruiser I think 5 is ok. Too few and it really stands out when someone won’t eat one of the dishes. Since there is tension in the office, that would not go over well.

Cruiser's avatar

@JLeslie My favorite to date was when we had a temp who was from Pakistan and she brought in the most amazing dishes I have ever tasted and have not been able to find anywhere in a restaurant. People love to cook and share their favorite dishes and doing so at work is just another opportunity to share another side of yourself you don’t always have while on the job.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cruiser I agree. I just had the possible disaster in my mind of course.

john65pennington's avatar

I faced this same situation with a younger officer promoted to a Sargeant position and over me. His whole attitude changed. I had a talk with him and cleaned the air, concerning his position. I had 37 years as a sworn officer and he had seven. We had partnered in the same car for months.

I told him that I respected his promotion and his position, but to not let it go to his head. I would obey his orders, as long as they were legal. He was on a six month probationary period and I knew this. He soon mellowed out to his own self and our problems were solved.

Older people do no like to bossed around by younger people. I understand both sides of this situation.

You are their boss and its time for you to be a boss and make a decision. But, please keep both people’s position in mind. It will work itself out, maybe.

Jeruba's avatar

I would not force socializing on them before reaching a better working understanding. If I were one of the workers in this situation, I would feel horribly put upon to be required to bring food and put on a happy face while still seething with unresolved issues. People may have to learn to work together, but they should not have to spend their off time in social contact unless they choose to.

Some people love to cook; some people love to share favorite dishes; some people enjoy socializing and sharing their personal side. Others do not. Some perfectly nice, normal people sincerely and passionately hate events like that. I was over 50 before it dawned on me for the first time that the people who organize those company social events actually like them, want to do those things, and don’t view them as a form of torture. I always knew which of us were secretly suffering and participated only because somehow we knew that our jobs depended on it.

Once peace is made, an event to celebrate might be nice, provided that when consulted privately the various parties agreed to it.

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