Resource Centre Life At Work Managing People Older Than You: Tips for Younger Bosses

Managing People Older Than You: Tips for Younger Bosses

managing experienced employees

Hi BrighterMonday,

My name is Tony and I have a burning issue. When the year started, I was made the head of the marketing department in our company. I was excited because I have been working very hard and my hard work is finally paying off. However, there are people who are as much as 8 years older than me in our department. This has created an awkward situation as they have to take direct instructions from me. Some of them are even resisting the move and I am afraid that this might sabotage my success. I really want a harmonious working environment so that we can all continue delivering on our tasks. How do I go about managing these people who are older than me?




Hi Tony,

First, hearty congratulations on your promotion! Your new year resolutions seem to be falling in place and it goes to show that hard work and persistence really does pay.

In most African cultures, the older people talked and the young ones listened. Older people ruled younger ones and decisions were made by older people. In many cases, children were to be seen and not to be heard. This is something that most of us have grown up knowing and it has always been practiced at all levels of society. However, the tide is changing, especially in the workplace where due to your skills and qualifications, you might find yourself managing people older than you.

As the world changes, young, ambitious and hardworking people get rapidly promoted, in some cases, placing them above older people. This, of course, puts the young people in direct contravention of the old African culture where the young are led by the old.

Going by the job market trends, this is not about to slow down, as the workplace becomes more liberal and leadership becomes more about your capabilities and skills and less about your age. It can create an awkward situation or even conflict, as in your case, if not well handled.

Managing Older Employees

So, we have pointed out mistakes that you should avoid when managing older people than you. Let us now have a look at ways you can ensure that you effectively manage older employees for their success, your success and the success of the entire team.

Involve them in Decision-Making

This applies to people who also manage those who are younger than them. Gone are the days when the boss was superior and made all the decisions, with subordinates only being tasked with executing the decisions. Employees now want to be engaged and to be made part of the process.

This will help you in managing people older than you, as you will create a good working relationship with them. Remember, these are people who are more experienced and they have a lot of knowledge. As a result, they can help you in coming up with and executing ideas effectively.

If you ignore them, they are likely to step back and let you make the mistakes alone. A good relationship is created when you actively involve older employees as they feel like their opinions and ideas matter and they are more encouraged to bring you extra value, drawn from their experience.

Make your Goals Clear and Attainable

To avoid having unnecessary conflict, ensure that you communicate expectations clearly and on time. This will enable you to ask questions if and when things are not done on time. It will also minimize the likelihood of conflict as clarity enables everyone to know what exactly is expected of them, without your constant supervision.

Clear goals allow you to align goals realistically and you get to focus on the result, as the older employees get down to executing tasks according to their skills and experience. This will eliminate the likelihood of micromanaging, which creates awkwardness and give room to the older employees to do things how they know best, as long as they attain their targets.

Clear goals create a harmonious relationship as the older employees know what is expected of them and you can hold them accountable to their targets.

Take Charge of Your Department

It might be tempting to let older employees get away with misconduct or the inability to give results. You might feel like your age is a hindrance and this makes them take advantage of you.

When managing people older than you, it is best to have confidence in your capabilities instead of letting your age-gap hold you back. You got the position in the first place because you are competent and have what it takes to get the job done. So, do not be apologetic about your position.

Act like the leader and guide the team, support the team and lead the team in getting its projects done. Be firm and objective and this creates an understanding, which will eventually pay off as everyone falls in line. When you take control of your department and your work, you will earn their respect and your age will never be an issue.

Encourage Open Communication and Learn to Listen to the Older Employees

In some cases, younger bosses develop an attitude of being ahead in terms of trends and new developments. They may feel that the fact that they got the position to lead older employees means that the older employees are outdated and should not have opinions on emerging issues.

This can cause the older employees to avoid coming up with new ideas, which is detrimental to the team.

Encourage the older employees to openly voice their ideas and concerns and take the time to actually listen to them and genuinely take into consideration their ideas. This allows them to teach you what they know and share any new ideas, which is what you really want from the entire team.

Know What Keeps them Motivated

Everyone is motivated by something, which is unique but there are certain standard motivating factors for people around the same age group. While it might be easy to know what keeps people from your age group motivated, such as regular feedback, it might be tricky to know what motivates your older team mates, because of the obvious disconnect in age.

Take your time to find out what keeps older employees motivated as this will enable you to develop an effective rewarding scheme for them. A good leader is one who effectively leads the team and rewards individuals for their work.

Do not assume that you can use the tried and tested methods as this will backfire and create no tangible benefits for you. For example, older employees might be motivated by the ability to get flextime as they have families to take care of; something that may not be a priority to younger employees who are not at that level in life.

Acknowledge their Experience and Expertise

The fact that they are still part of the organisation means that they have something valuable to bring on board. As a result, their years of experience count for something and it can play a vital role in your success and that of the company.

As much as technology has revolutionized how things are done, older employees know first-hand what works and what doesn’t and this is knowledge you want to harness for the benefit of the company. It is, therefore, a good idea to take into account their years of experience and knowledge, and use it effectively.

Mistakes to avoid when Managing People older Than You

managing experienced employees

First, there are mistakes that people make when they get into positions of leadership, which can jeopardize their chances of success.

Not Trying to Relate with the Older People

In most cases, you will find yourself managing people you are of the same age group with. This makes it easy for you to relate with them in terms of social issues, what motivates them, and how they do things. However, the older people in your team may be from a completely different age group and this presents a challenge.

Avoid the mistake of overlooking their point of view and perception. Try to understand their challenges both in and out of work, their concerns and their ways of doing work. This will only create a rift between you and them and make your work really hard.

Assuming you Know Everything Since You are the Boss

You definitely got the promotion because of your hard work and your ability to deliver on your tasks well, as you mentioned in your letter. This is a commendable job and your promotion is well deserved.

However, this does not mean that you are better than everyone else. It also doesn’t mean that you are the sole custodian of all knowledge in your team. Most people make the mistake of imagining that they are better than everyone else and only their ideas matter. This sidelines the other team members who feel that their work is not appreciated, which results in conflict or complacency.

As a matter of fact, managers also learn from their subordinates and older employees have experience in the company and the industry, which means that there is a lot you can learn from them. It is wise to make them feel like their ideas matter and actively involve them in projects. This enables you to harness their knowledge and grow the team.

Assuming that they Won’t Respect you Because of Your Age

Since they are older than you, you are likely to find it difficult to reprimand them and be keener on their performance. The first instinct might be to avoid confrontations with them, which is likely to make you overlook some things that might end up being costly to your team’s performance in the end.

Your older subordinates will respect you if you do your job well and listen to them at the same time. This helps you to create a good working relationship with them, which is exactly what you need at this point in your career. If you do your job well and relate with them, you will earn their respect and your age will be of little significance to them over time.

In conclusion, managing people who are older than you is not impossible. All it takes is the ability to pay attention to them, do your work effectively and build strategic relationships with them. In fact, the awkwardness created by the situation may just be your own creation than a reality. Take time to understand the older employees and you will be on your way to a successful relationship that can propel your career to greater heights.

We wish you well in your management roles this year.

Mueke Katwa
I have two years experience in Business Support which covers Human Resource as a function; and a lifelong passion in creative writing.
Notification Bell