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How to Manage a Team of Older Employees

It's not that different from managing anybody else.

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Whether you've been hired into a leadership position at an existing business or are making a new wave of hires at your startup, you're bound to face a situation that can fill young managers with anxiety: you'll have to manage people older than you.

Whether it's just a few years' difference or you find yourself with direct reports your parents' age, it's understandable that managing outside your peer group might make you uncomfortable. The key to succeeding while managing older employees might be to make sure that lack of comfort never sees the light of day.

That's the main takeaway from a recent post on Intuit's Fast Track blog from management consultant Alison Green, who also runs the popular Ask a Manager blog.

It's All In Your Head

Green provides a 10-point tipsheet for managing older employees, but the long and short of it could be summed up as follows: if you let the situation be awkward, it will become awkward.

"Imagine if your own manager was younger than you and appeared hesitant or uncertain about her authority," she writes. "You’d feel pretty weird about it too, right? Now imagine that she was instead matter-of-fact about it and simply moved forward and did her job as if ages were irrelevant. You’d likely adopt that attitude too."

Green also cautions about one surefire way to unwittingly draw attention to the difference in age. You might noticably be more comfortable with your peers, and that might be reflected in your tone even if it isn't in your actions.

Be a Consistent Leader

"Don’t joke around with the younger staff members and then turn serious with the older ones, or otherwise treat them differently," Green writes. "If you’re warmer to people closer to your age, your staff will notice--and it will undermine their respect for you and their trust that you can manage them appropriately."

Green's tips might sound like strategies for managing anybody--show confidence in your ability to lead, don't treat certain employees different than others. By and large, that's by design. Approaching it differently will call attention to the differences, which is exactly what you're trying to avoid.

Ask for Tons of Feedback

However, there's one area where the age difference can play in your favor: in gathering feedback. Older employees have been around the block a time or two. That means they can offer business and workplace insights that your peers might not be able to, and they'd also know better than you possibly could how they work best.

Eliciting feedback and respecting working styles are also keys to managing any employee--but when it comes to managing a team that's older than you, they have their insights are backed by experience, something their age affords them that yours does not.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 12, 2014




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