As a manager, you have to juggle different personalities, attitudes, career paths, learning styles, and sometimes ages. 

Most workplaces aren’t one-size-fits-all, and the same goes with age. If your organization is multi-general, you’ll likely find yourself managing someone older than you at some point. And while a couple of years isn’t a big deal, managing someone 10+ years older than you may be uncharted territory.

Not sure what to do if you’re a younger boss managing an older team? Fellow has you covered.

10 Tips for managing someone older

Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned supervisor, there are always new things to learn and ways to improve. If someone older has recently joined your team, you may be unsure of the best ways to manage them. Here are 10 tips for managing someone older than you.

1 Build strong relationships 

The first way you can successfully manage someone older on your team is by doing your best to build a strong relationship. Doing so is a crucial step to being seen as a respected leader and someone they can count on and turn to when necessary. The stronger your relationships are with your team, the easier they’ll be to manage. 

To build strong relationships, ask questions about employees’ experience and learn more about their opinions, interests, hobbies, and expertise. Find commonalities, just like you would with your direct reports, to form a bond at work.

2 Schedule regular one-on-ones

An important part of managing any employee is ensuring that you’re always on the same page in terms of communication. For that, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have regular one-on-one meetings on the calendar. 

These meetings can help you better understand your employee’s communication style, how they work, and how they ask for help, and can set a tone for how the two of you work together in the future. As a manager, encourage your direct reports (of all ages!) to come to your one-on-ones with any questions they may have or any challenges they may be facing. 

Show your team that you care

Remember what was said during past one-on-one meetings to strengthen your relationship. With Fellow, you can see a history of every 1-on-1 conversation you’ve had.

One on One Meeting Tool

3 Implement a change management process

Changing existing procedures and processes can be stressful for anyone, but this change can be especially stressful for older adults in the workforce.

As you navigate managing team members who are older than you, instill a change management process that can help everyone adopt changes as seamlessly as possible. It’s essential to explain details like:

  • Why the change is happening
  • Why the change is important to long-term success
  • How the change will be implemented

There will likely be questions immediately after the change is announced and once the change is put into action. It’s crucial that your team knows they can trust you with these questions. Be honest and upfront if you don’t know the answer right away, and let them know you’ll find out on their behalf.

4 Seek feedback, not approval 

Keep in mind that, usually, older employees have more experience in the workforce than you. This coincides with older employees being full of knowledge and expertise that others simply don’t have, so be open to hearing their feedback on varying types of issues and work processes. Listen to their insights that you may not have and take advantage of their different way of thinking and what it brings to the table. 

5 Understand communication style

When managing all different types of employees, do your best to understand their communication styles. This is especially important when your direct reports are older adults. While you may want to start meetings being direct and jumping right to the point, older employees may want to spend a few moments making small talk.

Similarly, if your team uses technology like Slack to communicate, an older adult may not be used to this method and may prefer email or face-to-face conversations. Whatever the case may be, find out your older employees’ communication styles early on so nothing falls through the cracks.

6 Become an active listener

On a similar note, once you clearly understand how an individual would like to communicate, be sure you’re an active listener in all conversations. This means focusing on the speaker, understanding the message they’re conveying, and responding thoughtfully. This highly valued interpersonal skill will let older individuals know that you value what they have to say and are completely focused on the conversation.

Being an active listener will allow you to build trust, instill a connection, and be better about identifying and solving problems as they arise.

7 Focus on results, not process

You don’t want any of your direct reports, especially an older adult, to feel like you’re there to micromanage and tell everyone what to do. Instead, pay attention to the needs of your team without passing judgment. What works for your younger staff may not be what is needed for an older generation. Keep an open mind regarding what process the older individuals may need or ask for in order to succeed. 

If you’re happy about the end results, check your ego at the door and put your employees’ ability to succeed first.

8 Beat imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome happens to everyone, and it’s often challenging to avoid self-deprecation — especially at work. This syndrome can be taken up a level or two when you manage someone older than you. You may get in your own head and question whether or not you have the knowledge, experience, or know-how to manage someone who has been in the workforce longer than you have, held more jobs, and accumulated more knowledge overall.

However, don’t sell yourself short. Believe in yourself and know that you got to where you are within your career for a reason, too.

9 Be authentic 

Another great way to build a strong working relationship with an older employee is to evoke an authentic leadership style. When there’s a clear difference in age between you and someone you’re managing, being authentic can go a long way. 

To give your authenticity a boost, try:

  • Showing more of your personality and your true self
  • Making sure your team feels seen, valued, and heard
  • Owning your mistakes and celebrating wins
  • Being open to questions, comments, and concerns  

10 Give recognition 

Just like you would to any of your direct reports, make sure to give older employees praise and recognition for their hard work. An older employee is just like everyone else, and they too seek recognition for a job well done. You can give them this recognition during one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, team meetings, or whenyou see them throughout the day.

Mistakes to avoid when managing older employees

Once you’ve mastered these 10 tips, keep these mistakes in mind to avoid as you manage older adults. 

  • Assuming the age difference is a problem. While it’s likely something the older employee has noticed, don’t go into the working relationship thinking there’s an issue when there isn’t one.
  • Not providing adequate training. Just because an older employee has a longer resume than others doesn’t mean they don’t need training when they start a new job or role within an organization. 
  • Failing to be relatable. It’s clear there will be differences that automatically come with age, but as a manager, try to find common ground and ways to relate with an older employee. 
  • Acting like you know more simply because you’re their manager. Take advantage of an older employee’s experience and never act as though you have more simply because you’re their supervisor. 
  • Assuming someone is stuck in their ways and can’t adapt. Not every older individual is going to be resistant to change just because of their age. Remember that they’ve likely been through more change than most!
  • Believing they’ll struggle with technology. Give an older employee the benefit of the doubt they might be just as techsavvy as other team members you manage. Don’t automatically assume they need more training to do simple and straightforward technological tasks.

Age is just a number

No matter how much younger you are than someone you’re managing, do your best to treat them just like everyone else. If you don’t make the age difference an issue, it’s likely they won’t, either. Remember that as long as you remain respectful and approachable in your management style, you’ll likely succeed with all of your direct reports.