5 Steps to Managing Employees that are Older than You

With the ever-evolving state of today’s business world, it’s inevitable that the trend of younger managers having to manage older employees will continue to grow.

You see as technology advances at an unprecedented rate, while the population’s median age proceeds to shift into its golden years the need for younger managers will not only remain a necessity, but a smart long-term investment for small and mid-sized companies.

But how are these younger managers supposed to manage employees that are older than themselves? How are their needs different? How do these younger managers earn the older employees respect? What about motivation and reward?

That’s what we’re discussing today in this easy-to-follow series that is sure to increase your productivity as you manage an older workforce.

1. Identify their needs.

The fact that an older employee is working isn’t necessarily because they need the money. Actually, reports that, “84 percent say they would work even if they were set for life — not to work for the money, but to stay active.”

On the other side of that statistic is that with the advancement of technology people are living longer. This means, according to Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order, that people who live to be 65 years old have a 50% chance of living to be 90.

Unfortunately for most, their financial planning wasn’t prepared with this longevity in mind and so they actually do need to work well past the normal retirement age.

You see the older generations needs are a two-sided coin that differs from younger employees. But by identifying and respecting these needs and desires, a manager can then put themselves in the mind set they’ll need to be in to lead.

2. Earn their respect.


First, you never want to discount their worth and what their experience brings to the table. So many times an older, experienced worker when presented with a problem has has some real world experience dealing with this type of concern and might just offer up a solution that may of not been thought of otherwise.

You also don’t want to be dismissive. Remember it’s your job as their manager to help them learn the new skills required to perform optimally. Anything having to do with technology my cause a challenge. Taking the time to educate them to be self-sufficient will be greatly appreciated.

And while you don’t want to come off as a “bossy, boss” who instantly alienates your older staff, you do need to remember that you are the boss. You might have this feeling that you don’t deserve the position of power you are in. This is very common. The best advice you can get on this is that to remember you do deserve your position and power., so be sure to reflect that in the most respectful way possible.

When managing older employees the key is to be sure that you validate their worth, give them very specific feedback, and have the ability to hold them accountable as you would anyone else. That’s how you build respect.

3. Set clear boundaries.

Knowing that your older employees have more life experience doesn’t mean they should be able to run all over you. By laying out clear expectations, you’ll draw lines that won’t be easily crossed.

For example, if an older employee needs a flexible schedule, see that all needs and expectations are made aware from the beginning so that way everyone can see a benefit in the mutual relationship. Also, by openly communicating on a regular basis you’ll set up a comfortable channel in which to relay any new concerns or congratulations as they arise without having to agonize over them greatly.

4. Learn to motivate them.

What is it that motivates an older employee?

According to a study, the top five things older employees have reported they actually want out of their work experience are:

  1. A friendly environment — 94%
  2. The chance to use their skills — 94%
  3. The chance to do something worthwhile — 91%
  4. To feel respected by coworkers — 90%
  5. The opportunity to learn something new — 88%

These statistics show us that a friendly, rewarding, and respectful work environment that has the potential for offering the individual “something new” is really what the older employees want.

5. Learn how to reward them.

Knowing what motivates them, what is it that they really need and want?

Answer: They want rewards that are more tailored towards their lifestyle.

They want the reward of meaningful work and relation building opportunities. They want to be consulted in some of the decision making processes that affect them, and they do not want to be ignored. It’s in these types of rewards that an older employee will not only respond, but thrive.

So, your job as their manager isn’t to dangle a carrot in front of them hoping they’ll follow your lead, but to instead include them as a valuable part of your team.

Regardless of who your managing, or how old they are, be sure you take enough time to consider what your overall goals are before making preconceived judgments. Following this five step plan may not cover all the bases, but it will give the foundation upon which you can build strong, healthy working relationships.