Stop Blaming the Old-Timers

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Your longer-serving workers might have a reason to be negative, but you can change that.

Do you talk negatively about the long-serving employees in your organization?

I was doing some work recently with a group of leaders, and we were discussing the need to stay positive even when surrounded by people who are negative. Many of the participants, and even myself, were tending to generalize that the high seniority, longer-service workers were the ones who were negative and standing in the way of change.

It’s such an easy generalization to make that your longest serving employees are negative and impeding change.

The problem is when we generalize we end up treating people with disrespect. Some long-term employees have good reason to be a little negative, especially if they’ve endured years of negative and autocratic leadership. If you’d been mistreated and disrespected, you too might come off as a little defensive.

When we generalize we end up treating people with disrespect. Share on X

So, what is a leader to do in order to acknowledge past transgressions and help people move on from the past and focus on the future?

Here are some tips:

  1. Reframe your thinking. Instead of thinking that experienced workers are stuck in their ways, see them as tremendous assets in moving the business forward. The self-fulfilling prophecy says that whatever you think as a leader, you tend to get what you expect. So, update your expectations to be more positive.
  2. Listen, empathize, and involve. People want to be heard, so be prepared to listen to some of the history; empathize to show that you understand their frustrations; and then get those people involved in new projects. Ask for their opinions and solutions.
  3. Show respect, not sarcasm. Even when you’re attempting humor, it won’t always be perceived as funny, especially if it’s seen that you’re making fun of those long-term employees. Instead, treat them with respect. Leading and motivating a multi-generational workforce, especially in a production facility that’s been around for decades, requires respective and inclusive leadership.

A word of thanks to the leader in Chester, Pennsylvania who suggested this topic. I love getting tips from users, and I look forward to helping you on your leadership journey. Do you have a topic you’d like me to discuss? Share it with me.