Two co-workers, one older and one younger, looking at work documents on a table.
From understanding different communication styles to leading with humility, there are several considerations to acknowledge when managing employees who are older than you. — Getty Images/Drazen_

The workforce is changing: Millennials now outnumber older generations, while many older workers are putting off retirement. This dynamic means there’s a good chance that millennials will be in the position of supervising their older counterparts. Research by CareerBuilder.com found that already, nearly four in 10 U.S. workers have or have had a younger boss.

For many professionals, this can be an awkward proposition. If you find yourself managing older employees, here are some tips to make sure the relationships transcend age and bring the best out of everyone.

Avoid adopting stereotypes

Remember that age is just another form of diversity: Ageism is an unconscious bias that can negatively impact your workplace relationships. Instead, learn to embrace generational diversity and the benefits it brings to your team.

Supporting generational diversity starts with the understanding that people of different ages bring different viewpoints to the table, helping to increase innovation and creative problem-solving. Rather than relying on baby boomer or millennial stereotypes to understand your team members, think about what stage of life each person is in. How do their different life experiences bring value to your team?

[Read more: 4 Secrets to Business Success At Any Age]

Be considerate of different communication styles

Different generations have their own ways of communicating. Broadly speaking, some generations prefer in-person communication more than others. Others are more likely to be in a life stage where separating personal and professional time is important. Parents, for instance, are likely to resent late evening meetings.

“Since the older generation tends to divide work and life more than young people do, reconsider sending 11 p.m. emails, lest your team thinks they’re expected to be on the job 24/7. To get on everyone’s good side, avoid communicating between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless absolutely necessary,” recommends Monster.com.

Make sure to create policies and put tools in place to enable everyone to communicate comfortably, whether it’s on Slack, in-person, or only during certain times of the day.

Many young managers struggle with the fear that older workers may not take them seriously. This can lead young managers to overcompensate and come across as arrogant or insecure. Try to combat those feelings by striking a balance between confidence and humility.

Find a balance between humility and confidence

Many young managers struggle with the fear that older workers may not take them seriously. This can lead young managers to overcompensate and come across as arrogant or insecure. Try to combat those feelings by striking a balance between confidence and humility.

"If you approach your team members with both confidence and humility, you'll get over those feelings of being an imposter more quickly," Joyce Maroney, executive director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos told SHRM. "If a new manager is feeling intimidated, they need to win their own head game first. Be clear on the objectives of your position, communicate these objectives clearly, and remember that there is a reason you were chosen versus other candidates who may have more experience."

You may not win over everyone, but that’s true no matter what age you are. Remember that you were appointed manager based on your merits, not your age.

Find a co-leader or mentor

Identify someone on your team who can be your cheerleader or right-hand person. This is someone who is trusted by others and can help you win over everyone else you’ll be managing. Or, if your team is small, look for a mentor who can give you reliable feedback. These people can give you invaluable feedback as you navigate your way as a leader.

Starting with a few allies will help you win the trust of those older than you. Ultimately, however, you’ll want to get to know each team member individually to understand their needs and goals, and to make sure your team has the support it needs to be successful.

[Read more: 7 Things Young Entrepreneurs Should Do to Improve Their Chances of Success]

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Published August 15, 2022