Here’s what young entrepreneurs need to know about managing older employees

Being an entrepreneur today is very different from the way it was in our parents’ and grandparents’ days. In countries with ‘Western’ cultures, the young adults’ world is also vastly different from that of older generations. But because we often need to do business with older people, this has implications for how we relate to, and work with them.

Research into the attitudes and expectations of people born during the second half of the 20th century suggest that they can be categorised roughly into one of two groups: Millennials and
Generation Xers.

Millennials — people now in their early-20s to mid-30s — are often educated, well informed, usually tech-smart, connected and confident. Openness and purpose are important to us; and we don’t just accept authority, we have opinions too. We thrive in a world which is quick-and-lean, and that includes communication. An article in Forbes Magazine explains that Millennials look for ‘purpose’ in work and relationships; we especially value family and collaboration. We also often make great entrepreneurs and most of us want to be our ‘own boss’.

Those who are now roughly 35 to 50 years old, the Generation Xers, grew up in fairly tough times where both parents had to work to make ends meet, the more so if they were not white. Gen-Xers are therefore usually independent, hard-working and they value what they have earned. They grew up in an unsettling world where digital technology was just emerging. They prefer a structured environment with a measure of certainty. A study conducted by EY says that their circumstances meant that Gen-Xers made good them, driven entrepreneurial material.

Understanding what makes Gen-Xers tick makes it easier to work with them. For example, they tend to prefer an organised, goal oriented approach with a properly prepared business plan and regularly updated financial statements. They like to be in control, almost obsessively. “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

We, on the other hand, may prefer a more flexible work environment, maybe networking with a laptop at a coffee shop. We work smarter rather than harder, working on the business rather than in it. For us: perfect is the enemy of good. We like to get a project MVP, then improve it if necessary. Try to understand that this approach is totally alien to many Gen-Xers, it makes them extremely uncomfortable.

It’s difficult enough for entrepreneurs to work together as it is, and both Gen-Xers and Millennials are inclined to be independent people as it is, but each comes from a life situation that is foreign to the other. Gen-Xers are often more comfortable with established, tried-and-tested ways but Millennials know that some of those ways are no longer relevant in today’s digital world.

Our different upbringings also make it difficult for us to find common ground. From childhood, we learn to consider familiar things as normal: our family, our community, our culture, our ways. What is different we find disturbing, even wrong. We have difficulty accepting traditions, world-views that are different from our own.

We use different adjectives to describe the same trait as seen through different eyes: persevering versus stubborn, flexible versus inconsistent, lazy versus chilled, independent versus won’t collaborate. How do two different generations work together when it appears that they don’t share a common work ethic? For people of different generations to succeed in a common work environment, they need a common purpose and vision. If they can see the world through each other eyes, they may both discover that things are not as different as they appear.

So, what would it take for you to meet the older generation halfway?



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