There is a common saying that age is just a number. Of course, there is no age to learn, grow, and improve yourself in all aspects of your life. But is it equally true when you are managing a group of people who are older than you?
You worked hard and finally got the promotion you deserved. And now you are in-charge and the boss of several team members who are significantly older than you. If this is you, then you are not alone. Many young managers feel strange, awkward, and intimidating when they find themselves leading a group of people who are many years older and more experienced.
Today, millennials are outnumbering other generations at work. More than one-third of the workforce in the United States are millennials. And with companies desperate to retain top talent in their organization, they are promoting employees early in their careers.
Thus, many new managers who might be decades younger than their subordinates are writing performance reviews, giving feedback, deciding salary, and perhaps even considering discipline for them.
According to OfficeTeam, 82% of the professionals say that they are comfortable reporting to a younger manager. However, friction can arise quickly when you are managing an employee older than you. This friction can arise due to several issues. For instance, differing communication styles, leadership styles, and ego can make your task of managing older people difficult.
Of course, these issues can make your job more difficult and can also impact the productivity of your team. However, with the right approach and transparency – you can reduce the friction between you and your older workforce.
In this article, we will discuss the common issues that can arise while managing an older workforce and how you can deal with those issues.
Problem #1 – Communication Style
Communication is the most crucial aspect of your life. Whether it is personal or professional, success becomes hard without effective communication. The same is true for managing a workforce that is older than you. When working with an older workforce, it is essential to communicate effectively and adopt a communication style that can reduce the age friction between you and your workforce.
Ineffective communication or miscommunication can lead to unnecessary friction that can hamper team productivity. However, with a few simple tricks and tweaks to your communication style, you can avoid friction and boost your connection with older workers. The following are a few tips that can use for enhanced communication.
1. Communicate as much as you can
First and foremost, do not assume that the older worker knows what you are expecting from them. Having such an expectation will never allow you to manage them efficiently. You must understand that they do not have the same background as you do.
Therefore, try to remain clear with your expectations. Tell them clearly what you want them to do and by when they are expected to finish their work. Be transparent about the goals and the success metrics you have for evaluating work.
For instance, do not say, “John, please take care of that for me”. That is not going to be enough. Instead, tell them – “I want you to prepare the budget for the next financial year. Reflect on the numbers from last year and increase the budget on everything by 10%. However, for the training budget, look for a 15% hike. Ensure you get it done by Friday”.
When you offer such detail and openness in your communication, age becomes a non-factor. Moreover, boomers will also know what is expected of them. Thus, it will allow them to do their work with much more efficiency.
2. Understand how they like to communicate
As a manager, you might have a direct, to-the-point communication style. And there is nothing wrong with it. However, you need to understand how your subordinates like to communicate. For instance, do not start the meeting with your objectives straight away. If the boomers want to spend the first few minutes chit-chatting about their day or weather, let them do it.
Give a close look at the pace that they are used to work, and then cater your communication style accordingly. Moreover, older workers might prefer to keep their personal and professional life separate much more than young people do. Therefore, you must reconsider before sending emails around 11 PM.
Of course, you might expect your team members to be available 24 x 7. But you must also understand that they have a personal life as well. To get on their good side, try and avoid communicating between 8 PM to 6 AM, unless if it is absolutely unnecessary.
3. Do not hide behind the screen always
Not everyone has the same knack for using technology as you do. Especially the boomers who did not grow up with an iPhone in their hand. Therefore, avoid hiding behind the screen always. Interact with your team in a face to face environment as well.
Young people are used to getting feedback through Slack or emails for a job well done. However, old workers usually prefer that the manager should stop by their desk and appreciate the effort for bringing the project over the finish line.
Such small tweaks to your communication style can go a long way in your effort to manage the older workforce. Moreover, it will also boost the productivity of your team while making them happy and loyal to you.
Problem #2 – Leadership Style
In a dynamic team environment, with a significant age gap between you and your team members, it is natural that some friction might arise due to leadership style. Therefore, it is essential to have a proactive leadership approach.
The following are some of the tips to have a more efficient leadership style that can work for both you and the boomers in your team.
1. Be open about your way of doing things
First and foremost, be open about your way of doing things. Let them know what all you expect from them so that they are not left guessing and making assumptions.
Moreover, rather than directing and instructing them to do their work, embrace the idea of becoming a coach. Be the manager who is there to make their life easier by removing the obstacles.
That said, do not make all the changes on the first day itself. And do not make the mistake of changing everything by yourself. Instead, ask your older workers regarding the one thing that they do not want to change and the one thing that they would like to change.
Boomers can advise you on the previous attempts at making changes that did not work out. By asking them their suggestions, you can save yourself from the hassle of committing the same mistake. Moreover, by bringing them into the discussion, you will also create a more collaborative environment.
2. Make them in-charge
Even though you are the leader (manager) of the group, you do not have to make all the decisions by yourself. You can give autonomy to one of your experienced boomers for making decisions on their own.
Trusting others is one of the biggest characteristics of a great manager. For instance, rather than giving them one part of the project, let them do the whole thing on their own. By trusting them and their ability to knock it out of the park, you will gain their trust and respect. Moreover, you will also find some spare time which you can otherwise use to focus on other crucial things.
3. Shower them with recognition
It is the success of your team that is going to define your success as a manager. Being a manager, it is your responsibility to keep motivating your employees for doing a good job. However, it is also your responsibility to shower them with recognition when they do a good job.
When you make them feel recognized for their work, they will keep doing the job with more efficiency and enthusiasm. From giving out bonuses to creating a Slack appreciation channel, there are several ways to boost morale and offer recognition to your older workforce.
Problem #3 – Ego clash
Ego is another issue that can make life difficult for you. Whether it is you or your old employee, the ego can lead to disharmony among team members. The following are some of the ways that you can manage the ego issue more efficiently.
1. Be Humble
Being humble is a sign of a great leader. Therefore, do not let your ambition come across as arrogance. There is no need for you to validate how you become the leader or a manager at such an early age. When you rattle off your impressive resume to the boomers in your team, it can come off as bragging.
Therefore, rather than saying much, you are better off speaking less. This is essential because people who have been working longer than you tend to be more hypersensitive towards any signs of privilege and power. Therefore, you need to adopt a more supportive role. Let your management and leadership style speak for you rather than bragging about your achievements.
2. Do not let them push you around
When you are younger than some of your co-workers, they tend to take advantage of you. It can happen even when you are a manager of a few co-workers older than you.
Sometimes they might push you around and can make you do their work. They might say, “Oh, you are far better at technology than me. Why don’t you do it?” In such situations, you should resist the urge of doing their work.
Of course, you should be supportive. But at the same time, you must hold them accountable. If you find that they are pushing you and piling your plate with more work, shoot the project back towards them. Tell them “I can teach you how to use the necessary programs. Do not worry. If you get stuck, I am here to support you”.
3. Focus on result more than the process
Everyone has different needs and requirements to thrive at their work. As a manager, it is your job to look after the needs of your subordinates, especially old workers.
For instance, if your employee needs to hear loud music to concentrate, give them what they need. Even if they need to sit in your office, give them your space. Do not let your ego come in between your pride and your productivity. It is more important to focus on the results and not on the process.
If they can deliver stellar results while hearing loud music, as a manager you must be okay with that. Therefore, give up your ego and put your team’s requirements first for achieving success and results.
It is going to weird and difficult to manage someone older than you. But remember it is a part of your job description. Of course, several issues may arise between you and your team members.
However, with the right communication and leadership style, you can manage issues and people more efficiently. Let go of your ego and give your team what they need to do their job. After all, it is the success of your team that will define your success as a manager.
Let me know your thoughts below or email me if you have anything personal.
Thanks for reading.