Conflicts can arise between any boss and employee, but when a younger boss manages an older employee, he or she faces a whole new set of problems.

Younger bosses might feel that older employees don’t respect their authority. Older workers might feel younger managers lack real-world experience. Either way, poor attitudes from both sides add fuel to the fire.

If you are a young boss in charge of older employees who have more experience or who have worked at the organization much long than you, follow these tips to establish your authority, without damaging relationships with your new employees.

Keep an open mind

Everyone has something to offer, and your older employees bring a wealth of skills and knowledge to your team. Don’t make common and erroneous assumptions about older employees, such as “They are not adaptable, can’t be trained and aren’t as productive as younger people,” and never make rude comments or jokes about age.

Earn employees’ respect

Coming in with an iron hand and heavy discipline will only lead to resentment and ridicule. Instead, show respect to earn respect. Listen to their concerns, ask for their feedback, and trust that they care about the direction of the team. Additionally, consider all competent workers for promotions and bonuses regardless their age, and reward superior work from everyone. The goal here is to show employees, that regardless their age, you will be fair and consistent, even if you relate more to your younger teammates.

Capitalize on skills

Give older employees new roles and responsibilities that take advantage of their skills and knowledge. For example, ask them to mentor younger co-workers or to draft procedure lists or training materials. Prove to them that you see their history with the organization as a real asset.

Ask for suggestions

Show respect for the many years of experience clocked in by the older workers. Request their opinions, and reach out to them for historical context when you are planning new change initiatives. Express an interest in both successful and failed past projects.

Recognize the differences

Understand that some older workers prefer face-to-face communication. They may want to meet more regularly to discuss projects. They may prefer formal training in technology rather than just figuring things out for themselves. While you should expect them to follow new processes, use new technology and support changes, don’t try to change them.

Address problem employees

Unfortunately, one or more of your older employees may resist your changes. They may fight you on every decision. Some could even ridicule you, undermine your efforts or encourage other team members to do the same. While it can be scary to discipline an employee, especially one who is older and more experienced, you must address the issue immediately.

When older teammates argue or disrespect you in front of others, stop the behavior in its tracks. Gain the confidence to firmly, but respectfully, say “I understand your point, but this is my decision …,”  “We are moving on …,” “Come to my office to discuss this after the meeting …” or “Let’s keep the discussion respectful and productive …” and the like. Additionally, schedule a feedback session with the employee to discuss the problem, establish performance improvement goals, and set consequences if the employee doesn’t change negative behaviors.

Managing older employees doesn’t have to be a horrible experience for you or them. Using these tips, strike the perfect balance between showing respect and establishing authority.


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