How to handle being a young HR manager in an older office

by Nicola Middlemiss10 Feb 2015
Managing a team comes with more than a few challenges but if those team members are all older than you, the task can seem even more daunting. One HR manager has some advice…

Lead by example

If you turned up late or dressed too lax, it wouldn’t take long for your employees to do the same – so why should an age gap be any different? It isn’t, says HR manager Alice Green.

“Your employees will take their cues from you,” says Green. “If you seem hesitant or appear to feel awkward about the age difference, people will notice it and it will make them feel awkward, too.”

Instead, Green urges young managers to act like it’s a “non-issue” – pretty soon, your employees will do the same thing.

Don’t over-compensate

According to Green, one of the most dangerous things any manager can do – young or otherwise – is to over-exercise their authority just to prove they have it. It’s a sure sign of an insecure leader.

Ask for input and solicit perspectives other than your own, advises Green. “That will do far more to establish your right to your position than making a point of authority for authority’s sake.”

That being said…

Don’t shy away from stubborn employees

“If you sense an employee is resistant to your authority, address that the same way you would any other performance issue,” says Green. “Don’t excuse it on grounds of the age difference.”

She suggests the following phrases:

I’ve noticed you seem reluctant to take on assignments I give you. What’s going on?

I appreciate hearing your input but ultimately I’d like you to tackle this project the way we talked about and to give me the opportunity to weight in before you make significant changes to plans we’ve finalised.

Try to learn before your mistakes 

Learning from our mistakes tends to be the only silver lining to making them but if you think your professional ability is under the microscope, it’s important not to give employees any excuse for doubting you.

“Learn all you can about how to delegate well, how to give feedback how to set goals and hold people accountable to them, how to recognise and reward good performance, and how to handle problems,” advises Green.

Treat all ages the same 
In an attempt to gain the respect of older workers, it can be easy to treat them more seriously than younger workers but this will only harm your credibility, warns Green.
“Your staff will notice and it will undermine their respect for you and their trust that you can manage them appropriately.”

It’s not that big of an issue…

It’s very likely that you’re more wary of the age gap than your employees are, says Green.  “Support them in doing their jobs well and they’re unlikely to mind how old you are.”


  • by Judy Higgins 10/02/2015 1:47:45 PM

    Older workers largely couldn't care less how old their supervisor/manager is. It's about being treated fairly and with respect as you would any employee any age.

  • by Catherine Cahill 10/02/2015 2:05:05 PM

    I would have thought Age Discrimination was covered in People Management 101

  • by Jocelyn 10/02/2015 2:35:59 PM

    On the other side, it might be worth reading some articles such as HBR's 'The Young and the Clueless'. Perhaps we have created a rod for our own backs by promoting people to leadership roles before they have developed the emotional maturity for them. Of course age is no guarantee of maturity but it does warrent some consideration.

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