Back in My Day - Managing an Older Workforce

April 25, 2019
MRA Edge
Engagement & Retention
Read time: 3 mins

Eugene is amazing! He’s been with the company for 32 years and has worked in most departments, making friends with everyone he meets. He usually does a great job with the task at hand. But in the last six months he has slowed down some, made minor (but noticeable) mistakes and has even dozed off at lunch. So now what?

How does an employer manage an older employee when there are productivity and possible safety concerns?

It’s understandable from a business standpoint to start thinking about replacing Eugene. You’re seeing where he’s headed and it’s not going to get any better—he’s getting older and naturally slowing down. But, from a human standpoint, you know that’s callous and unsympathetic. And you know it’s illegal if you replace him solely because of his age. So it’s time for what may very well be an uncomfortable conversation.

The best way to go about this is to set up a time to talk in private. During your conversation it’s important to remember:

  • First and foremost, be compassionate. No one likes to be told they aren’t cutting it, especially a guy like Eugene who loves his job, and the people he works with.
  • Stick to the facts. Talk to him about his mistakes, productivity issues, and safety concerns. Don’t talk about hearsay from coworkers or any speculations you may have.
  • Ask questions. Find out what he’s thinking, how he’s feeling, if he has any plans. He very well could have a timeframe in his head as to when he is going to retire. You can ask about retirement, but remember not to interject your feelings. Telling him that he needs to retire or even leaving him with the impression that you are encouraging him to retire needs to be avoided.
  • Make a plan together. Now that you and Eugene are on the same page as far as his performance and safety concerns, what’s next? Well, you two should come up with a plan that maps that out. Maybe he works on different tasks, shortens his work day, or moves to a different department that suits him better. If he does have a timeframe of when retirement makes sense for him, you should work together to develop that transition plan. This type of partnership will ensure he continues to feel a valued part of the organization until he retires.
They’re Watching …

Treating the older employee respectfully and compassionately is important for many reasons. You want him to feel like the valuable part of the team that he is, even if things are changing for him.  But also, know that your other employees are watching how this is playing out. If you treat Eugene with respect, it will be noticed. Pushing him into retirement or demoting him will be noticed as well, and that could cause a backlash with your current workforce, or raise concerns for their own path within the company as they grow older.

Managing an older employee who’s declining is challenging, without a doubt. No manager wants to have that tough conversation. But, if done with compassion and understanding, along with a willingness to make it work, it can end up being a win-win for everyone.

At MRA, we have the resources you need when it comes to managing your workforce, at any stage of their careers. Our certified HR Hotline Advisors are on standby to assist you at 866-HR-HOTLINE (866.474.6854).

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