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It is a business trend across the world that younger managers are being asked to manage older or more veteran workers. The fact is that we have a workforce that is a hyper-sensitive mix of boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (born 1965-80), the famous millennials/Generation Y (born 1981-97) and the moving into the workplace Generation Z.

Before you start analyzing the exact dates of each generation, it is important to know that many experts can not exactly define when one generation starts and another one stops, so we will just use these dates as guidelines. The more important message is that there are many golf course superintendents, assistant superintendents and assistants-in-training that are finding themselves managing one or two generations older than themselves daily. To do this successfully, takes some unique skills and a bit of insider knowledge.

So here are some great tips for successfully managing your elders as told by a boomer who thinks like a Gen Y appreciates Gen X and realizes we are all depending on the millennials to figure things out in time to save Gen Z. Here we go.

1. Ask, Do Not Tell

When it comes to younger managers, earning the respect and cooperation of older workers step one is to, “Ask, not Tell.” For example, saying, “Can you take green mower No. 3 and mow the front nine greens for me?” is much more effective than saying, “Mow the front nine greens … NOW!” Vintage workers want to follow instructions and perform well and they also want to feel that respect flows both ways. You may also want to use a healthy amount of “please” and “thank you” during your interactions as well.

2. Learn the language of vintage workers

Spend a little time listening closely to the phrases and speech habits of your elder staff. Note stories and things such as how they refer to their elders or bosses (or the fact that they use the term boss and not superintendent) as Mr. or Mrs., because they were taught this a sign of respect by their “greatest generation” parents and it is part of who they are. Use this to connect to their experiences and “you will be in high cotton.” It is also important to note that most vintage workers do not speak text, Instagram or Twitter.

Vintage workers want to know what’s happening. Be sure to let the staff know, when it is appropriate, things such as comments from members and/or guests, tournament results, financial updates, green speeds and safety goals. Putting up a scoreboard is an option for keeping workers informed.
© anthony williams

3. SOPs ASAP

Establish a consistent set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the main work assignments within your operation. This will help you avoid misunderstandings between a multi-generational staff and the management team. The establishment of a clear set of basic procedures that are easily trained and communicated is critical for sustainable success. Consider the use of specified trainers from different generations (a boomer training a Gen X or a millennial training a boomer) within the crew to help everyone better understand their similarities and differences and thus make everyone more successful.

4. Tell them the score

Vintage workers want to know what’s happening. They are not so worried about all the minutia but they certainly want to hear if the team is winning or losing and if they are part of the solution or part of the problem. Be sure to let the staff know, when it is appropriate, things such as comments from members and/or guests, tournament results, financial updates, green speeds, safety goals and status. You may even consider putting up a scoreboard in the shop.

“Remember that veteran workers respect actions, not words and they realize the smallest deed trumps the largest intention. They have many experiences and strengths as an employee but often it is a younger superintendent/manager that is tasked with bringing that talent to the surface.”

5. Data mine

Use personal reviews and formal/informal evaluations as opportunities to tap into some great ideas. Vintage workers are often retired or long tenured from any number of successful previous professions. Take the time to see if you have some hidden talents in the crew and mine that field for ideas and insights. Document these skills in annual performance reviews or a note in the employee’s personnel file. Your recognition of previous experiences as still valuable and relevant will prove to be a solid investment to create standout performers and innovations within the team.

“No matter how stressful or seemingly impossible the situation never let the staff see you lose control and say or do something unprofessional. Take a deep breath, send someone home, do whatever it takes to control the situation and your emotions.”

6. Control your emotions and expect everyone to do the same

No matter how stressful or seemingly impossible the situation never let the staff see you lose control and say or do something unprofessional. Take a deep breath, send someone home, do whatever it takes to control the situation and your emotions. The crew will never forget your calmness under fire but, conversely, they will also never forget you losing your composure. Vintage workers want clear boundaries and examples of what is acceptable in the workplace. Give them a visible and audible example every day and you will create a positive work environment that everyone is proud to be a part of.

7. Know everyone’s limitations and err on the side of caution

Most vintage workers take great pride in performing the work that is assigned to them and will not say they feel dizzy or need to eat every few hours to balance their blood sugar or if they are having chest pains, especially on aeration day. It is part of the job to monitor and ensure the well-being of the staff. Never publicly embarrass a worker with medical or physical limitations, assign work according to job class and accommodate as needed. Getting the most out of the staff in a safe and respectful way is always the goal and in some cases the law. Consider having all supervisory staff CPR and First Aid certified to help you become more aware of on the job risks and how to react if there were to be an incident, especially with a vintage worker.

© Marek Uliasz | Dreamstime.com

8. Pay it forward

Look closely at your vintage staff and you will realize that they are where you will be in a few short decades. Take a deep, long look into the generational mirror and see the needs and the value that those elder members of your crew represent. Realize that you have a lot in common with these forbearers of the golf industry. Then do everything you can to protect their jobs and their dignity. Doing this will make a difference today and hopefully many years from now when the next generation of young and rising superintendents/managers are impacting our business. They in turn, will repay the respect you gave to the vintage workers in your day. Time will inevitably march on but what we do with the time we have will ultimately establish our worth.

The key to using these eight tips successfully is to apply a little empathy to the situation each day. Remember that veteran workers respect actions, not words and they realize the smallest deed trumps the largest intention. They have many experiences and strengths as an employee but often it is a younger superintendent/manager that is tasked with bringing that talent to the surface. I hope that whether you are an assistant-in-training, assistant superintendent, starting you first day as a golf course superintendent or a vintage manager yourself you will invest the time to be an excellent manager of the multi-generational workplace and embrace the potential of having a few vintage employees on your golf course maintenance team.

Anthony Williams, CGCS, is a veteran golf course superintendent and frequent GCI contributor.