A new study sheds light on the effects younger bosses have on their older subordinates’ performance
The more millennials enter the workforce, the bigger the chances that companies would have younger bosses handling older subordinates.
And while the age gap may be awkward enough, a new study published in the Journal of Organizational Psychology found that in companies that employed more young managers to older subordinates, 12% more employees reported having negative feelings about their job.
“The companies with more of these negative emotions fared worse when it came to top managers' reports about financial and organisational performance in the survey,” reported Jena McGregor at The Washington Post, adding that researchers surveyed 8,000 employees at 61 different German companies for this study.
Meritocracy – where the best person is chosen for a particular job, without regard to seniority – may be the right and fair way to hand out promotions but it does have its disadvantages.
“Doing away with age-based promotions helps prevent stagnant hierarchies, frees up fresh talent and reinforces performance over longevity,” wrote McGregor.
“But it also sets up dynamics between colleagues that are not only uncomfortable for some, but can be detrimental to productivity if not well managed.”
Florian Kunze, chair for organisational studies at the University of Konstanz in Germany, added that the “’status incongruence’ contradicts common career and status norms that prompt negative feelings and these negative feelings can also spread throughout a company to employees who are not directly part of the unusual age supervisory relationship”.
Older employees who work under younger managers perceive the dynamic as a failure on their part to keep pace with changes in the workplace, he said.
In some companies where the culture prompts people to suppress their negative emotions, Kunze and fellow researcher Jochen I. Menges, chair of leadership and HRM at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, found that “the hit to company performance was neutralized”, though they did not advocate for this solution to the problem.
Instead, they said companies should invest in training their managers to be more sensitive to their subordinates’ negative feelings and how to be proactive about these feelings before it escalates to greater proportions.
“Recent research has shown that young managers are most successful in these situations if they create a professional distance with the older subordinate and provide autonomy to [them] by setting clear targets and goals,” he told McGregor.