Advice needed on managing older staff
September 19, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I've just got a new job, and will be faced with the challenge of managing a team that are very different to the team I currently manage. My new team are a lot older (older than me) and I'm looking for advice on how to be a good manager to them.

I've only been a proper manager for 3 years - my current team are all young; graduates or second-jobbers, and are all smart, keen, talented and motivated. I've loved helping them develop individually and as a team. I have high expectations, and have a (nasty) habit of throwing them in the deep end sometimes, but (with support) they always rise to the challenge. I stand up and fight for them where necessary, and enjoy publicising their successes. They've made my first proper management role so easy!

I'm now moving to a related organisation in a more senior management role. I'll be managing a team of four, most of whom are significantly older than me (35) - one is only a couple of years off retirement. One applied for the job that I've got.

I'm guessing that my current "lioness and her cubs" approach to management won't be appropriate!

My immediate thoughts are:
- ask them individually how they like to be managed, and try and manage them in that way
- identify their strengths and areas of experience, and their weaknesses, and try and allocate projects accordingly
- just be myself - I got the job for a reason, so being myself will prove my worth and gain their respect

But I'd love any tips on managing older staff and gaining their respect.
- What motivates people approaching retirement?
- Advice from people being managed by younger managers would be particularly helpful - what should I do? What shouldn't I do?
- Any tips for handling the person who applied for the job and didn't get it would also be great.
- General management advice would also be helpful - I've learnt on the job thus far, and I know that I've got a long way to go before anyone would ever describe me as a great manager!

posted by finding.perdita to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been through similar a couplefew times as an underling (not always a younger manager, though), and one thing jumps out at me: while they might be able to tell you how they like to be managed, this won't always mesh with your style. What if one person works best with 7:30AM stand-up meetings?

I think the best thing here, at least early on, is to tell them how you like to manage. I don't think people necessarily need to be catered to, managerially (though you will find out idiosyncrasies with different reports, eventually), but it goes a great deal further in filling them in on what they can expect from you and how you deal with challenges.

Lead by example in giving them what you think you want them to give you: ways to make work life easier and better. Nobody likes a pandering management survey, and there's no guarantee you'll be able to respond to everybody's wish list anyway.

As for gaining the respect of your new coworkers, be decisive and don't micromanage. There is no age limit to that.
posted by rhizome at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2008

ask them individually how they like to be managed, and try and manage them in that way

No. Please no. Don't get me wrong, you definitely *do* want to adjust to your team's personalities and not manage like a rigid automaton. But remember that substitute teacher who came in and was really nice and asked the kids what *they* wanted to do? Remember how the kids treated her?

I know they're not kids, but I think the main difference with older employees is that they've been around the block and are more likely to test you to see what they can get away with. Be yourself and be firm. Make adjustments to accommodate their styles, but don't frame it as "giving in." Don't compromise on the stuff you feel is critical. You are in charge and you need to remember that at all times. Lead them and they will be willing to be led. Appear too wishy-washy, and one of them will be more than happy to de-facto take over for "that young girl who doesn't really know what she's doing yet."
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2008

While it's great to hear from an individual how he or she wants to be managed, a person's own perception on the subject might be misleading. I think you'll learn more if you can figure out how each of them works with and handles their coworkers. Don't get gossipy, but as you're getting to know each of them, mention that you're still trying to get a handle on everyone's working style and that you'll appreciate hearing if you need to do things a particular way in order to keep the others happy and get the best work out of him/her. I don't think they'll be shy about letting you know when someone else needs a squeeze or a kick or a certain consideration.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2008

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