What to do when you have to manage someone older than you

  March 18, 2017

When you join a company as a graduate employee often you are being groomed (in a non-creepy way) to become a leader within the organisation. This might take years to actually transpire depending on your own interests and skills, but sometimes it can happen very quickly. This is obviously great news for you if it does as it shows the business already trust you, believe in you and are invested in your progression. However it does present it's own set of challenges; being a manager is tricky enough in itself as it's a very complex and testing role to take on, but in today's workplace, due to shifting demographics, you are increasingly likely to be in a position where you are having to manage someone older than yourself. Theoretically this shouldn't be an issue, but the truth is that it can be a major one. There is an inherent expectation that your manager will be older than you, and when that doesn't happen it can really impact your own sense of worth and confidence. Imagine how you would feel if an 18 year old school student was put in charge of you – pretty undermined probably, and it's exactly the same if you become the manager of someone older. However this doesn't mean that there's no way to deal with this issue in a sensitive and inclusive fashion.

Don't make assumptions

This is absolutely, most definitely, the most important thing. Do not assume that just because someone is older that they don't understand certain technologies, or that they have a specific way of working or certain beliefs. At the end of the day, regardless of who you are managing, they are an individual, so whether they are 60 years older than you or two years younger, don't assume to know anything about who they are, what they enjoy or how they like to work. Instead spend some time asking them about these things, and then move on to step two.

Respect their experience, knowledge and skills

Chances are that if you are managing someone older than you then they will have worked in that industry and possibly that company for many years. They will therefore have a hell of a lot of useful knowledge and insight that if utilised will benefit you both. Of course you shouldn't just assume that they know everything and if you believe their suggestion isn't the best course of action then it's entirely appropriate to let them know that (politely of course and explaining why). But there's a lot to be said of listening to and respecting your elders, so just because you are the boss, doesn't mean your employees don't have a lot of knowledge to share, especially if they've got 40+ years' experience under their belt.