Managing an Employee Who’s Older Than You

A manager, by definition, is in authority over their employees. A manager’s primary duty is to lead and guide those who serve under them. Usually, a manager is older than an employee. In these cases, the difference in age serves to reinforce a manager’s authority. However, sometimes a manager is years younger than the subordinate, which can present certain special challenges, potentially complicating the manager-employee relationship. A business leader should be prepared for such circumstances. Here are four tips for managers on dealing with an elder employee.

  1. Treat them with respect.

    Older people expect to be treated with respect by their juniors. That’s still true in a business setting. An older employee may worry that their youthful boss won’t take them seriously, or that they will be considered a dinosaur whom the world has passed by. A manager should take pains to assuage such fears, making clear to senior employees that they are still valued members of the team.

  2. Don’t make assumptions.

    There’s always a tendency to rely upon stereotypes when dealing with members of other generations. A young manager may fall into the trap of viewing an older worker through the lens of their previous experience with parents, teachers, coaches, or similar figures. However, every person is an individual, so blindly assuming an older employee will work or think in a particular way is a bad idea. Relying on preconceived notions only obscures reality.

  3. Use their knowledge.

    The longer a person’s career, the more opportunity they have had to gain knowledge and wisdom. A seasoned, veteran employee can be a powerful asset for a younger manager, and should be treated as such. There may be certain areas in which an older worker has significantly more knowledge than their younger boss. When that’s the case, a leader should never be afraid to draw upon this reserve of knowledge by requesting input from their older employee.

  4. Act like you’re in charge

    Because you are. While a manager should have respect for an older employee’s experience, that doesn’t change the basic nature of the boss-employee relationship. A manager must remember than they remain in a position of authority. A younger manager who allows his authority to be undermined is making a big mistake. A subordinate should always know that their boss expects to be respected and obeyed, no matter their respective ages. A manager should neither exhibit undue deference nor resort to posturing or adopting an overbearing manner.

A boss managing someone older than they can be a strange experience for both parties. It feels natural for a younger person to look up to, and receive guidance from, their elder; when the positions are reversed, things can seem weird. However, a manager can’t let these feelings affect them. By approaching the situation in the right way, such as by following the aforementioned four rules, having an older subordinate will be beneficial rather than problematic.

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