In the world of employment, it is commonplace to assume that an employee with little to no training or experience will start with the organization in an entry-level position. Once the employee gains additional experience and knowledge about the job, they may be a great candidate for a promotion. One might call this “climbing the career ladder”. This is typically the way that it has been for quite some time, however, things have since changed and “climbing the career ladder” has become very easy to do for some employees due to the training and experience gained throughout college, an internship, etc. Younger employees, namely millennials, are taking positions in which, they are required to supervise a number of employees, and those employees may just so happen to be older than them.
Typically, there will be an accepting group of employees who will support the younger manager in their job and aid in their success. Alternatively, there will be a group of employees who will not see eye-to-eye with the younger manager, which may make the younger manager’s job even more difficult. If the situation is properly addressed by both the employee and the younger manager, things may work in favor of both sides. Experts state that in order to cultivate a connection and a positive relationship with a younger manager, all employees must first address the age difference challenges head on. This may seem intimidating and awkward, but it doesn’t have to be, if approached correctly. For example, when an older employee is reluctant to utilize new technologies in their job it is up to the younger manager to aid them in learning the new technologies and when the older employee looks at the younger manager as having an entitlement attitude, it is up to the younger manager to communicate with he or she that this may not be the case in their situation. Sometimes there are stereotypes on both sides that need to be debunked and effective communication is the “key” to a successful engagement between both. After all, younger manager or not, employees should look at their managers as team members, not rivals and younger managers should look at employees in the same manner.
Once employees have taken the first step, it is time to build a solid foundation for a healthy working relationship. Building a rapport with any manager is important. Rather than focusing on generational stereotypes, employees and managers should focus on what they have in common. Posing nonwork-related questions is a great way for employees to understand their younger managers interests. Something as simple as “Have you ever attended an Indianapolis 500 race?” may be the perfect conversation starter. Believe it or not, there are plenty of millennials in the workforce who share common interests with their older colleagues.
One of the hardest things for employees who report to a younger manager may be erasing the mindset of “this is the way that we have always done it.” The younger manager will undoubtedly have new ways of approaching specific tasks and problems, which may be the best thing for the organization. However, this is not always the perception from older employees. Again, this goes back to an employee’s willingness to learn new things and accept and embrace change. There are very few industries, if any, that will be the same forever due to innovation and new ways of thinking. Therefore, accepting change will be the best thing any employee could do for themselves to stay on the forefront of their positions and the knowledge that is required to excel.
Communication is key to working together with a younger manager. As the stereotype goes, millennials prefer to email or text about an issue rather than talking about the issue in person. Employees should not be quick to judge and assume that younger managers are going to manage them from behind a computer or mobile device. Employees should find out the best way to communicate with their younger manager and embrace it and younger managers may have to embrace the fact that they too will have to change the manner in which they communicate in order to promote an effective working environment. For some, this may be easier said than done.
Employees who have been in the workforce longer than their younger manager likely have more experience. Unfortunately, employees sometimes feel that due to their experience, they may act as a mentor to their younger manager. Employees acting as an informal mentor to their younger manager may go one of two ways; great or terribly wrong. In most cases, employees attempting to mentor their younger manager will come off as condescending, or degrading if the older employee does not lay the foundation regarding why they are attempting to mentor them. Rather than offering career advice that likely was not solicited, employees should explain to their younger manager historical information about their job and the organization. Offering advice about what has worked well in the past is a great start. For example, an employee may share which types of communication specific clients prefer instead of letting their younger manager figure it out for themselves; potentially the hard way. This is another way that employees are able to build a great working relationship with their younger manager. While younger managers may come off as fearless, a large majority of them are likely worried that they may not be taken seriously, especially if it is their first time managing and supervising employees. Employees should avoid coming off as someone who knows all, avoid using phrases such as, “This is the way that we have always done it.”, or “It’s been done this way since before you were born.” In contrast, younger managers need to realize that they don’t know it all and that they may have much to learn from the older employees.
While it has been stated that employees should build a rapport with their younger manager and adapt to their communication styles, this does not mean that employees should try and be like their younger manager. Older employees should steer clear of trying to be “cool” by adopting mannerisms in which they would normally not exhibit. Regardless of age, the “coolest” thing employees can be is authentic and genuine.
So, while many workplaces are seeing more younger managers supervising older employees, there may be challenges that need to be communicated and worked through during the process. Knowing how to deal with these challenges and making the appropriate corrections is vital to the success of every organization.
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Written by: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP