Daniel Levinson offers a theory of adult development that is very thorough. He explains transitions through six stages -- the early adult period, the adult period, the transition to age 30, the period of settling down, the mid-life transition and the period of middle adulthood. By understanding these theories of adult development, you will better understand how to both interact with and manage your coworkers.
Study the early adult transitional period. This applies to your younger coworkers, between ages 17 and 22, who are now making their own decisions for the first time. These employees will need extra support from you and may need reassurances that they are capable of making their own decisions. As a coworker, this may mean giving emotional support or letting them know what similar struggles you went through. As a manager, this means letting the employee know that they are reliable and valued members of the team.
Understand the period of entering the adult world. These coworkers will be between 22 and 28 years old and are now making major decisions concerning relationships, their career, their associations and their values. They will be ambitious and some may be suitable for grooming for management and other positions of responsibility. As a coworker, you may need to counsel these coworkers on whether this is simply a job to them or a long-term career. It would help to let them know how this career has impacted your life. As a manager, you should find those with leadership potential and offer them the chance to lead small teams and projects to see if they may desire greater leadership roles in the future.
Understand the transition to age 30. This will be a time of stress for your coworkers, due to a combination of worry over their age and external stresses. These employees may have difficulty balancing work life, family life and personal life, and may have second thoughts on their career choices. As a coworker, you should reassure them that the difficulty balancing these aspects is natural, and that they will get better at it each day. As a manager, you should tell the employee that this crisis can help make them a stronger, more stable employee, one is able to make hard decisions and properly balance time.
Understand the period of settling down. Having survived the transition to age 30, the employee will have hit his groove at work, balancing family and career obligations. This employee may be ready for upper management positions, as they will be thinking more about their long-term career as a means of supporting their family. As a coworker, you should engage them socially: engage in friendly exchanges about family, and possibly invite them to social events in order to further make them feel like part of the work family. As a manager, you should reward capable employees with greater management positions and tasking, letting them know that they have made themselves an indispensable part of the team.
Understand the mid-life transition. This is the time of the so-called midlife crisis, as the employee will be concerned with whether they have made the right choices in life, and similarly concerned with their age relative to younger coworkers. As a coworker, you should remind the employee of the good decisions they have made, and point out that this is their chance to have a positive impact as a role model for the younger workers. As a manager, remind the employee of their value by listening to the employee's ideas for change at your company:these employees will be a good source of new ideas for the company, as this fits with their newly-formed notion that change is good and helps them to leave their own mark -- or legacy -- at the company.
Understand the period of middle adulthood. At this point, the coworker's children are likely away at college, or otherwise living on their own. As a coworker, make small talk about their family and their children, and help them explore the positive aspects of the so-called "empty nest." As a manger, you should facilitate their desire to provide support and guidance to younger people by making them a mentor to a younger worker.
Understand the period of late adulthood. These will be the most senior employees, and like the mid-life transition stage, they are concerned with legacy. However, they are unburdened by the stress of questioning their decisions, and are comfortable with the wisdom that comes with age. Overall, they desire to see a positive impact from their work. As a coworker, you should remind them of the positive impact they have had on the company, both in terms of effects on people and the organization itself. As a manager, you should pay special attention to their thoughts on the future of the company, and to strongly consider implementing changes to company policy that they advocate.
Dr. Chris Snellgrove is a writing specialist, and a veteran of everything from a book-length dissertation to a newspaper editor's desk. He has produced work for academic, business, creative, and non-profit endeavors.