Older Workers Bring Challenges, Skills
December 5, 2007
By Ted Topping
Understanding motivation will make your job as a coach easier.
Independent bakers across the country, many of whom routinely staff their stores with young people, are finding that there is now an alternative – that they can hire a different kind of entry-level worker instead. This welcome new labour pool consists of “older workers.” These are people born somewhere near the middle of Canada’s baby boom and now in their late 40s and early 50s.
With the good news comes some bad, however.
Because these potential employees have probably had a first career outside of baking, many will not possess the specific job skills that our industry demands. This means that any business that hires them will need to provide a period of structured initial training.
It also means that the owner of the business will need to understand the basics of motivation.
Building a motivated team that includes a mix of younger and older workers can be a challenging task. Although you, as a shop owner, can create a pleasant work environment, people will only do what you want them to do because they want to do it.
Many managers use a “carrot and stick” approach to motivating employees. For some, this takes the form of incentive programs or promises of rewards and bonuses. For others, it means using a symbolic “whip” and emphasizing negative results. Both of these methods are short-term at best and do not permanently change employee behavior.
A better solution is found in the work of Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology.
Widely available online, his “hierarchy of needs” suggests that people must satisfy their basic need for food and liquid before they can devote energy to a less-fundamental need such as safety. And only when people have satisfied their need for safety can they move on to the higher-level needs of love, esteem and self-actualization.
In the baking industry, most employees will fit into either level three or level four of Maslow’s hierarchy. This means that they will be trying to satisfy either “belonging and love” needs or “self-esteem” needs. The secret to motivating them lies in providing the right kind of motivation.
Affiliation motivation works for people whose needs center on belonging and love. People in this group want most to be part of a team and accepted by that team. This can create synergy through which the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Affiliators typically need to be liked and accepted, and they especially value social situations.
Achievement motivation works for people whose needs centre on self-esteem. People in this group have all of their belonging and love needs met, and they want now to compete and achieve because doing so will lead to personal growth. This can create achievement-oriented competition in which people meet their targets. In fact, achievers often set their own standards and measures.
If the initial hiring and training is handled properly in a business, most staff-motivation problems will stem from goals and incentives that are inappropriate for the team. And if a business owner mixes older workers with people 30 years their junior, the task of setting appropriate goals and incentives will become even more complex.
To some extent, this is a “stage of life” issue that simply reflects the natural order of things.
A 49-year-old parent who has raised children will have developed certain ways of dealing with younger people. However these ways may be totally inappropriate when that person is dealing with a co-worker who just happens to be the same age as the children.
At the same time, few 19-year-old adolescents will be able to view someone of their parents’ age as a workplace equal.
And it will be almost impossible for that younger person to be in charge, since few parents will take direction from someone who is less than half their age.
Despite the challenges inherent in building a mixed-age team, neither one age group nor the other is somehow “right” for an independent bakery. The best team for your business is one that matches perfectly the ages of the people who ultimately pay the bills – your customers.
To help employees function effectively as a unit, a business owner needs to “coach” – to optimize each person’s contribution by providing the appropriate kind of motivation.
For younger workers, most of whom will likely be “belonging and love” affiliators, the best way to provide motivation is to provide group contests with one goal for the entire team. Activities outside the store such as parties or softball teams – anything social – will work well. The coach will also need to draw everyone into discussions and be careful in offering negative feedback.
For older workers, most of whom will likely be “self-esteem” achievers, the best way to provide motivation is to provide individual goals and incentives so that each person can relish the personal challenge of meeting and beating theirs. The coach will need to keep the tasks challenging, never mundane, and to reward the achievement of unique results. Praise is sometimes all it will take.
As you get better at coaching both groups of workers – and ultimately each person as an individual – you will be building a series of one-on-one professional relationships.
These need to be built on trust if they are going to work. Managing people is not about being “friendly.” Rather, it is about being honest and fair with all of your people all of the time in an effort to first earn and then keep their trust.
For an independent baker, the biggest payback from building a balanced team that includes older workers may be the chance to offload some of the managerial duties that can sometimes feel a bit heavy.
Older workers will typically bring a lot of expertise to the workplace. If you hire someone who has worked for years in accounting, you may eventually be able to offload your bookkeeping responsibilities. If you hire someone who has worked for years in computers, you may eventually be able to offload your technology responsibilities.
At the very least, you may be able to hire a senior person whom you can train to become a “working lead.” This is a quasi-manager who is drawn from the regular staff but who is paid a somewhat higher hourly wage based on the responsibilities that he or she assumes.
The concept of a working lead works well in other industries and it offers real potential for both the production and retail sides of baking. Among other things, it lets a small-business owner harness the experience of someone who has been in the business world long enough to know the ins and outs and who will welcome some extra duties, status and pay.
Many older workers have the ability to become the model of professionalism and help a bakery flourish with only the slightest of managerial presence. In some ways, they may be the single most important link in the staffing chain – the glue that holds together the various processes that make a business work.
Ted Topping is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant based in Vancouver. He is the co-author of Start and Run a Retail Business, published by Self-Counsel Press and available through amazon.com and in book stores. His website is:
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