Tips for a New Manager: How To Manage Someone Older Than You

Updated January 31, 2023

Taking your first steps into people management is an exciting time in your professional career. As a new manager, you might find yourself leading a diverse team of people with different backgrounds, personalities and years of experience. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that today’s workforce is made up of five different generations, making the potential of managing someone older than you a possible situation.

Being an effective manager takes skills like leadership, communication and strategic planning. It takes time to build a rapport and respect with a team, and managers who don’t take the time to do this can have a negative impact on team performance and morale. In one Indeed survey, 10% of job seekers said the reason they were searching for a new job was due to being unhappy with their manager.¹

In this article, we explore strategies to help new managers effectively lead older employees.

Earn respect by building relationships

Managing a team can lead to some of the most rewarding experiences in your professional career. As a new manager, you might expect to lead a team that will be open to executing your vision for success and follow your lead immediately. But this is often a wake-up call for new leaders who expect respect immediately after entering a management position.

Building strong relationships with your team, especially team members who are older than you, is an essential step in earning respect as a leader. When you're a leader, your reports are likely more interested in your vision, skills and direction as it relates specifically to their work as opposed to, for example, your education or professional history.

Here are several simple ways to build relationships with older reports:

  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings.

  • Use active listening skills to recall key information from conversations.

  • Mentor staff in identified areas for growth.

  • Acknowledge the employee’s contributions to the job.

  • Offer and receive consistent feedback.

Related: Complete Guide To Building Relationships at Work

Ease into change

Another common mistake made by new managers is immediately changing existing procedures and processes. When managing older team members, the change management process can be important to ensure they adopt the new process successfully. Instead of making immediate change, ask those who have been there longer than you to provide their perspective. Take the time to explain why the change is important to the success of the organization. Even if the older team member doesn’t agree with the change, they’ll feel like a part of the process and know the change is coming. It can also help to implement small changes initially before making larger updates.

Related: 6 Steps to a Successful Change Management Process

Work alongside your team

When leading a team member that is older than you, it can help to spend some time working alongside them. This practice can be beneficial for multiple reasons, such as providing an opportunity to demonstrate your own work ethic and allowing you to fully understand their job responsibilities and learn from them. This is also a useful opportunity to observe the team in action. You’ll be able to learn their strengths and areas of opportunity—information that will be useful as you conduct professional development conversations.

Related: 6 Tips for Effective Teamwork

Recognize hard work with praise

Another strategy for managing someone older than yourself is to praise them for their hard work. Recognition for a job well done is something that many employees desire, including older employees, and the lack of recognition can have negative consequences. In another Indeed survey, 31% of job seekers said they did not receive regular recognition at work.² There are many ways to recognize employees for a job well done including in performance evaluations, verbally, in a team-wide email or with rewards.

Related: 11 Employee Recognition Ideas That Will Make Your Employees Feel Valued

Seek feedback, not approval

Ultimately the decision for change is yours, seeking feedback from older employees may help inform your choice. It’s possible that your change, test or new idea has been tried before. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try it again, but you should explain what you are doing differently or how the situation has changed that could now make the change effective.

When your older reports are included in the conversation, it is likely to make them feel heard and that their experience and perspective is valued. They may be able to provide insight that you might not have considered, increasing the likelihood of your change being effective. They can also help increase buy-in with other team members. As a more senior employee, they may be respected by people on the team. If they speak positively about a change, others may accept it as well.

Related: How To Ask for Feedback

Build work relationships, not friendships

While it’s natural to want to be friendly with your team, it’s more appropriate to build positive professional relationships. It might come easier to build friendships with team members closer in age to you, so this could feel isolating to an older member of the team.

Strategies for building friendly working relationships include:

Avoid connecting with the team on social media beyond professional networking sites. Drawing this boundary between your work and personal life is necessary for maintaining a professional appearance. Set social accounts to private and aim to protect your best online self.

Keep conversations work-appropriate. While it’s acceptable to ask your team what they did over the weekend on a Monday morning, avoid sharing overly personal information.

Be prepared to answer questions about your age with confidence. You’re in a management position because you’ve demonstrated leadership skills and a depth of knowledge in your industry. Even though discussing age at work is uncouth, it may come up in conversation or you could be asked outright. If revealing your age is not something you’d like to do, try a response like “What’s more important than my age is my ability to lead this team.”

Related: 12 Common Management Challenges and How To Overcome Them

Develop an authentic leadership style

An authentic leadership style can help to build strong working relationships with older team members. As you look to refine your leadership approach, start by choosing a leadership style that feels right for you or that you personally respond to as an individual contributor. If you’re just starting to refine your leadership style, choose one that aligns with your strengths. Choosing one that misaligns with your personality or values can come across as unnatural.

To find out what style that might be, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Would I rather make a decision on my own, or collectively?

  • Do I focus on short or long-term goals?

  • Does motivation come from empowerment or direction?

  • What does a healthy team dynamic look like to me?

Your answers to these questions can indicate which leadership style may be natural to you. Once you’ve determined which type of leadership style you’ve like to develop, try these strategies for refinement:

  1. Speak with a more experienced leader to gain insight into how they developed their style and what worked for them.

  2. Experiment by trying out varied approaches in different circumstances, paying close attention to the outcome and how natural the style feels to you in those moments. Be flexible in changing out your approach.

  3. Ask for feedback from both managers and colleagues. Although sometimes hard to hear, constructive feedback helps you grow into a successful leader.

The best leaders use a blend of leadership styles. As you grow in your career as a manager, you’ll start to learn which style to use depending on the situation, including how to adapt to managing older employees.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (+ How To Find Your Own)

¹ Indeed job seeker study conducted by Decipher/FocusVision (Base: all job seeker respondents, N=1,000)
² Indeed job seeker study conducted by Decipher/FocusVision (Base: all job seeker respondents, N=776)

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