Team of employees walking through the bright open hallway of an office.
From overcoming feelings of self-doubt to respecting communication differences with employees, there are several ways managers can navigate managing more experienced employees. — Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Managers oversee people from all age groups with varying skill levels. However, according to management consulting firm Korn Ferry, "The average age of a first-time manager in the United States is about 30," whereas 65.5% of the workforce in 2021 was 35 or older. New supervisors may exude leadership qualities but lack the institutional knowledge of more experienced employees. But you can still connect, lead, and be excellent at your job.

After all, everyone shares the goal of improving your company, products, and services. It isn't a competition for who has more experience or knowledge. Use these tips to earn respect and confidently lead your staff.

Overcome personal barriers

You may experience feelings of insecurity or self-doubt when you're in a room with more experienced workers. Or you may make assumptions about older or highly skilled team members. But the fact is that you were chosen for the job and can bring everyone together. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, identify the causes and find solutions.

Joyce Maroney, former 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."

Build trust

Form bonds with your staff by learning who they are, what they know, and how they do their job. Be consistent in your approach, and avoid acting wishy-washy. By establishing relationships, you can get more experienced workers on your side. Prioritize authenticity and build trust by acknowledging what you don't know and expressing interest in learning.

Value their experience

In the Thoughtful Leader, leadership coach and consultant Ben Brearley wrote, "Your experienced team members are leaders and role models too. They may not directly manage anybody, but the people around them value their expertise." Recognize their skills by celebrating their wins, showing your appreciation, and welcoming their insights.

Lisa Jasper, director of performance management at Insperity, suggested managers treat older employees "as a valuable resource." She said, "A sign of a good manager is a willingness to accept that they don't know everything but are willing to ask the right questions from their team to expand their insight and make solid decisions."

Form bonds with your staff by learning who they are, what they know, and how they do their job.

Respect lifestyle and communication differences

Workforce diversity reduces turnover rates, increases profitability, and improves your business reputation. But it's important to respect individual preferences without generalizations. For instance, 21% of respondents to a Harris and CareerBuilder.com survey were unhappy with a younger manager because "the boss assumes I don't know how to use certain technologies," SHRM reported.

Get to know your more experienced workers and find commonalities, such as a love of dogs or gardening. Meet with them individually in person and talk about their communication preferences.

[Read more: How to Create a Successful Internal Communications Strategy]

Don't undermine more experienced employees

Respect what experienced workers bring to the table and give them autonomy to do their job. Avoid the temptation to overrule their decision or disagree with them in front of others. Their expertise gives them clout, even if they aren't managers. Micromanaging experienced team members or cutting them down publicly can cause resentment and a loss of respect from other employees.

Make it about results, not processes

Your objective is to support experienced employees and align your team around big-picture goals. As long as your workers achieve the desired results, don’t try to critique or change their methods. If you believe changes are necessary, make it a group effort. Ask for input from experienced staffers and help them understand how modifications will benefit them and your company.

Handle performance issues fairly

If an experienced employee isn't performing up to par or is insubordinate, treat them the same as other workers. Avoid making it personal or suggesting poor outcomes stem from their age. Meet privately with the employee and state the problem. Give them a chance to share their perspective and actively listen. Reference your employee handbook, so they understand your reasoning.

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Published December 28, 2022