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The Young Manager Dilemma: 7 Tips for Managing Employees Who Are Older Than You

Posted by Eric Friedman

young manager

The face of the modern workplace is changing. Young professionals are climbing up the ranks faster than ever, becoming managers and supervisors at a younger age than previous generations. Several industries are seeing this shift, and although most companies’ top-level management hasn’t changed as much, the mid-level management scene has certainly changed.

In today’s multigenerational workplace, younger managers are finding themselves managing teams of employees who may be older than they are. They have the skills to be in their positions, but perhaps they don’t have much (if any) experience managing staff. This can lead to awkward situations that can affect a department’s performance and productivity.

The important thing is to recognize how the workplace has changed and to guide these new young managers so they can effectively manage their teams. Here are 7 tips for your young managers who are managing older employees:

  1. Avoid imagining things. When managing older employees, it’s possible that younger managers will think the situation is awkward, but they must remember that their staff will take their cues from them. If they act like it’s strange to be managing an older employee, then their staff will pick up on it and act like it’s awkward too. The situation doesn’t need to be awkward, though. The faster the young managers begin to act normal, the quicker their staff will also, so they can all get down to business.
  2. Manage consistently. One of the most important things to remember is to be a consistent manager. This applies to any manager, of course, no matter what age.  If a younger manager treats the staff members who are around his age differently than he treats the older staff—for example in a more relaxed, familiar, and laid-back manner—the older employees will certainly notice the inconsistency. No matter the age difference, no employee wants to be treated differently by his manager.
  3. Respect their style. Older employees belong to different generations with different priorities and working styles than younger ones. Generations like the “Traditionalists,” born before 1945, and the “Baby Boomers,” born between 1946 and 1964, are more likely to believe in paying their dues in order to move up the company ladder, and they’re usually motivated by financial security and are not afraid to work long hours. They may not be as keen to have a flexible work schedule or to achieve the kind of work-life balance younger employees may strive for.
  4. Remember your value. Younger managers tend to struggle with feeling that they have no place telling someone who is older than them what to do, but they have to remember that they do. They were chosen as managers for a reason—because they have the know-how and the work experience necessary to manage the team. If they’ve never managed a team before, it’s more likely that they’ll feel odd about it, but they should remember that their knowledge is of value not only to the company but to their staff as well.
  5. Play the part well. When younger employees get promoted or hired for managerial positions, they must adapt to play the part. Their dress, speech, and behavior may all have to change in order for them to earn their team’s respect. This also goes back to the older generation’s having a different style, not just for work but for their personal life as well. A more professional wardrobe, for instance, can go miles toward demonstrating that a young manager takes his role seriously.
  6. Don’t shy away from conflict. All managers have the responsibility to effectively manage their teams. This means dealing with issues when they arise. If an older employee’s performance is lacking, or any other issues come up, the younger manager has to approach him. As much as a young manager should try to treat her entire staff the same and not act like it’s awkward to manage older staff, if an older employee steps over the line because he thinks he has the right to, due to his age, the manager must address the situation. This type of behavior shouldn’t be accepted in any case.
  7. Ask for feedback. Finally, a young manager would do well to ask for feedback from his staff. After all, older employees have had more work experience and may be able to provide a different point of view than younger staff. This is also an opportunity to learn what’s working and what isn’t directly from your team. Keeping them engaged will also show them that their manager appreciates their input, and that’s good in any team.

Managing older employees might feel a bit strange to younger managers. The key to succeeding might be making sure that those feelings don’t get in the way of getting the job done. Have you ever had to manage older employees? What was your approach?

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

5 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Phil Camps May, 20, 2014

    I think it doesn’t matter whether managers are older or younger than employees. I am sure that if they are given this position – they deserve it. To be a manager means to be responsible at work, to be a good leader and organizer, to be initiative and come up with new creative ideas – and if you possess all these qualities it shouldn’t matter much how old you are.

  • Tom Quinsy May, 20, 2014

    I don’t care much whether a manager is older or younger as far as s/he does his/her work professionally. I can make analogies with karate sports, in which people are given higher ranks based on the color of belt they have to deserve. If you are 25, but gained a black belt – you’ll be put on a higher rank than if you are 50 and gained a yellow belt. You have what you gained for yourself through your efforts – the same is true about business.

  • Melissa Milds May, 21, 2014

    It’s a tricky situation – older employees might think that they are more experienced and deserve more rights than their younger coworkers, – that’s why they might ignore younger managers and not respect them by default, whereas younger managers can be to pushy in trying to make older employees listen to them. It’s all about finding golden middle and properly communicating with each other.

  • Anne Goodsell June, 11, 2014

    I agree it can be tricky. Sometimes the only reason a “younger” manager is hired is because they have an MBA – and no life experience. Those in the trenches do not respect pushy out of the box graduates who think they know it all simply because they’ve done case studies on the same issues a live environment is experiencing. They need to respect the people in place and be their advocate. Simon Sinek outlines well what true leadership should look like, and the leaders eat last…there is far too much power playing out here and far too little nurturing and encouragement of employees.

  • Maxine Harding-Wines June, 12, 2014

    OK, I agree, age shouldn’t be a factor in what defines a good manager but let’s be realistic it certainly influences. I have to admit, I read the article and thought, yup, I would like one of our managers to read this, but then sit here struggling with how to slip it into their development bag. Why? Because ‘stepping into a first management role at 29 with a Business Admin degree under their belt, there is absolutely nothing a 39 and a bit year old HR Manager can teach them about managing people’.
    Anne hits the nail on the head for me; the qualification (not to be dismissed) creates a potentially strong task manager, life experience is what strengthens an individual’s ability to become an admirable people manager / leader.
    Over my shortish lifetime it has been clear for me to see the shift in values and ethics of the next generations (OK, for the majority).
    How do you manage people of different ages? For me, establish mutual respect. How do you do that? Eric hits it on the head!

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Guest June, 12, 2014