Managing Older Employees – Hard for Everyone Involved

Posted On November 30, 2016

Here’s a news flash for you: Older employees working for younger bosses may be a recipe for a difficult workplace.

Another news flash: Water is wet.

The Washington Post recently cited a study by the Journal of Organizational Psychology which found that not only is working for a younger boss awkward, however, it can also be bad for productivity.

Surveying nearly 8,000 employees at 61 German companies, the study found a significantly higher level of “negative emotions” on the job at companies who had more young bosses overseeing older subordinates, and that those companies reported lower levels of performance.

The reasons for this aren’t difficult to pinpoint. As one of the paper’s authors, University of Konstanz (Germany) professor Florian Kunze, notes, the presence of a younger superior serves to remind older employees of their lack of commensurate advancement.

The kid telling you what to do and how to do it is in the job you should have had ten years ago. And that stings. But more companies are promoting based on merit and phasing out seniority-based models, leaving Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who get lapped by younger up-and-comers to deal with the emotional fallout.

Kunze and his co-author found that organizations where the culture discourages the venting of such emotions or keeps them buried may fare better in the short-term, but recognizes that this isn’t a viable long-term solution. Their conclusion: Invest in training, be sensitive to the angst of older subordinates and set clear goals and targets.

Certainly, a millennial manager should recognize from the jump that some level of animosity and jealousy among their older subordinates are going to be likely. Instead of coming in wide-eyed and assuming that everything will be taken at face-value, a younger manager who recognizes the awkwardness of the situation, and doesn’t shy away from it, stands a better chance of diffusing it.

The most important step, however, is true for all managers of any age – respect and value the input and contributions of your employees, regardless of age, and make sure they know that input is respected and valued. After all, isn’t that what we all really want, to be respected and valued?

To put it more bluntly, don’t come in thinking you know everything. And for the love of all that is harmonious and productive, don’t let your employees get that impression.

Categories: Workplace