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Today’s workforce is more age-diverse than ever before, with some organisations having employees from as many as five generations. A more age-diverse workforce can create an environment rich in experiences, perspectives and skillsets but it can also lead to strained working relationships due to differences in working styles; born from differing expectations, values and demands amongst generations.
The starting point for managing age diversity is to effectively understand cross-age differences in working and management styles. Such an understanding would enable businesses to leverage the benefits, and more effectively manage the challenges of age-related working preferences.
While many researchers have sought to address the question of how management style varies with age, previous findings have been fragmented, and observed differences have often been small.
Professors Julian Birkinshaw (London Business School), Vittorio D’Amato, Elena Tosca, Francesca Macchi (LIUC Business School at Universita Cattenao), and Business SME James Manktelow (Founder of Mind Tools Ltd) sought to gain more insight on this question, and provide a nuanced perspective on age-related differences in management styles, across five key areas: managing external context, managing internal context, managing people, managing tasks, and managing oneself.
To analyse whether, and if so how, management styles and practices vary with age.
The researchers surveyed over 10,000 managers aged 21 to 70 across 20 countries and multiple industries to learn about their preferred styles of working.
Respondents were asked to choose the five techniques (from a list of eight to 12) that they consider most important for delivering on five areas of their managerial work: managing external context, managing internal context, managing people, managing tasks, and managing themselves.
Regression analysis was used to analyse the effects of age, controlling for other factors such as organizational seniority, gender, country, and industry sector.
The researchers found significant differences in management styles across age. Overall, the research suggested that young managers (typically in their 20s and 30s) “took a more self-centered approach”, “preferred concrete management techniques,” and “emphasised self-motivation and self-discipline”. On the other hand, older managers (typically in their 50s and 60s) “favored a more inclusive and collaborative approach,” “relied on more intuitive and holistic techniques,” and “were more reflective”. In particular, the research yielded the following key insights.
This research has important insights; both for individuals to help navigate their working relationships, and for organisations to make the most of an age-diverse workforce.
At an individual level, employees would benefit from understanding how their management styles align to or differ from those of their peers or managers. Being clear that different people have biases to behave in different ways, is the first step to being able to understand the perspectives, priorities and values that may drive the management styles and behaviors of others.
At a team level, age-diverse teams would benefit from establishing a shared way of working - or common ground – enabling them to more effectively work together. By sharing which working styles and techniques they prefer, teams can develop a shared language and perspective, to collaborate more effectively.
At an organisational level, HR managers and leaders would benefit from understanding how management practices and preferences might differ according to age, and tailoring their people-development offerings accordingly. Having a deeper understanding of the types of skills managers across age groups may need to be trained on, would enable organisations to offer more effective people-development programs.
To read the full article, see: Older and Wiser? How Management Style Varies With Age, MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2019 Issue.
For more information, contact Shilpa Didla.
Shilpa is passionate about creating an inclusive and supportive work environment and contributes to D&I initiatives and thought leadership. Her key strengths include qualitative analysis, executive presentations, business writing, and people development.