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8 Tips to Supervise Someone Who is Older Than You

December 8, 2014

By: Diana Schneidman

The U.S. workforce is clearly aging…everyday…it’s inevitable, right? As life expectancy increases, our work lives also lengthen. Some baby boomers are working longer to achieve their financial goals for retirement, others are pleased to find that their skills are still in demand, and some simply enjoy working. Whatever the reason, if you are a young—or even middle-aged—supervisor, you may well be managing people who are older than you. With a little sensitivity to the situation, you can have a pleasant, productive relationship with the older workers you supervise.

Here are 8 tips to bring out the best in your employees…no matter the age:

  1.  Discuss your performance expectations with the older job candidate before extending an offer. Discuss how work is accomplished, including hours typically worked, how tasks are scheduled, etc. The candidate can determine if he will fit in; he may withdraw from consideration if he is not a good fit. Don’t assume that he will not fit in merely because of age. (Note that when you claim to have a “high-energy, young corporate culture,” you are subtly admitting to age discrimination.)
  2. Don’t indulge in stereotypes. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Just as you would not appreciate being excluded from consideration on the grounds of youth, don’t assume that the candidate has the stereotypical, negative traits of his age group. Just as you don’t want other people to assume you are spoiled, a slacker, or lacking knowledge, don’t assume that they can’t learn new technology and new ways of working.
  3. Respect knowledge and experience. Ask older workers to share their assessments of a situation or how they have resolved similar problems in the past. Just as you would expect them to value your insights, listen to theirs. Companies flourish when everyone is invited to participate in problem solving. Don’t prematurely dismiss their observations as unduly negative—maybe their negativity is justified.
  4. Recognize that older workers’ career goals may differ from yours. You may be intent on rising on the career ladder quickly. They may expect fewer promotions but relish the opportunity to contribute in their current job. This attitude may complement your go-go drive nicely. Appreciate it instead of scorning it.
  5. Communicate fully. All of us need sufficient explanations of our assignments to do what needs to be done, but this may be especially true of people from another generation who graduated from college in a different era. They may not be familiar with the buzzwords you take for granted. Make sure they understand what you are talking about by explaining fully. Ask for questions—and answer them completely and with patience.
  6. Don’t throw your authority around unnecessarily. Everyone understands you are the boss. Posturing communicates insecurity, not confidence. Workers will respect you if you respect them as well. Work with staff in a helpful way. Don’t let your power go to your head.
  7. Use the communication medium most appropriate to the employee. Some older workers prefer face to face conversations or emails. Texting may feel too curt. It is easy for older workers to take offense at jokes or sarcasm, especially when they do not know you well and are unable to “hear” how you mean the written words to sound.
  8. Most important of all, be fair. Treat all employees as equals. Don’t give special rights and consideration to peers your age. Don’t exclude older workers from opportunities, important projects, and social interaction.

The work world is different from school. There is usually a broader range of people who vary from each other in many ways, including age. The workplace can benefit from diverse viewpoints and life experiences if you establish an atmosphere in which each person’s contribution is appreciated.

Diana Schneidman

I have freelanced and consulted since 1992 while also holding full-time corporate marketing positions during some of that period. Freelance writer specializing in the insurance industry. Marketing communications, market research reports and competitive intelligence for insurance, asset management and general business.

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