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Young Entrepreneur, Older Employees: How to Cope

Being a young business owner with much older employees to supervise can be awkward. Or not. It depends on how you handle the situation.

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As more and more young folks develop start-up dreams and start their own businesses, the inevitable result will be more and more young bosses, many of whom are supervising folks much older and more experienced then themselves. That could be awkward. Or not. But it depends on you.

So how can baby-faced business owners get the best out of their older employees without raising their hackles? It's a delicate problem, but at least there's a lot of great advice out there for those struggling with the issue. The latest addition in this growing genre is a post by Under30CEO outlining 10 ways to manage those older than you. Some tips, like show appreciation and forget about popularity in favor of focusing on what's best for the company, apply to all generations really, but others are more useful for this specific challenge. For example:

Consider a Double Mentorship. Depending on age, some of your employees may benefit from being taught about new technology or trends. You also may be able to learn from the experience of one of your seasoned employees in one way or another. Exchanging mentorship may be a great way to connect with employees and share skills.

Don’t be Intimidated. Although you may be young, there’s a reason you’re at the top level in the company, and every employee who works for the company needs to understand and accept that and give you the respect that you deserve. Don’t be intimidated, you rock at your job!

Under30CEO is far from the only resource to offer advice, however. The American Express OPEN Forum blog has its own run-down of tips for young managers, including its own admonition not to be intimidated and recommendation to start a mentorship program, but the post by Mamta Badkar also offers a few fresh ideas:

Understand differences in lifestyle. If they're excellent employees but have to go home to their family instead of a happy hour, cut them some slack. Try reorganizing social events to be inclusive.

Know what motivates them. They may prefer better benefits over small bonuses, or they may want flexible hours. Keep it realistic and try and see where you can match the company's and employees expectations.

Or if you're looking for a deeper dive there's a whole book on the subject by Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, entitled Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order. To get a sense of whether it might be for you, check out this short video interview with Cappelli, explaining how not to be that nightmare younger boss.

Do you have any other tips to help young bosses avoid being nightmare managers?

Last updated: Mar 9, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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