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How to Successfully Manage Someone Older Than You [& What to Avoid]

If you find yourself managing someone older than you, try out these 10 tips for making the experience a positive one for everyone involved!

As a manager, you have to juggle different personalities, attitudes, career paths, learning styles, and sometimes ages. 

Most workplaces aren’t one-size-fits-all, and the same goes with age. If your organization is multi-general, you’ll likely find yourself managing someone older or more experienced than you at some point. And while a couple of years isn’t a big deal, managing someone older may be uncharted territory.

Not sure what to do if you’re a younger boss managing an older team? Fellow has you covered.

10 Tips for managing someone older

Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned supervisor, there are always new things to learn and ways to improve. If someone older has recently joined your team, you may be unsure of the best ways to manage them. Follow these 10 tips to ensure everyone has a good experience.

1 Build strong relationships 

The first way you can successfully manage a more experienced employee on your team is by doing your best to build a strong relationship. Doing so is a crucial step to being seen as a respected leader and someone they can count on and turn to when necessary. The stronger your relationships are with your team, the easier they’ll be to manage. 

To build strong relationships, ask questions about employees’ experience and learn more about their opinions, interests, hobbies, and expertise. Find commonalities, just like you would with your direct reports, to form a bond at work.

2 Schedule regular one-on-ones

An important part of managing any employee is ensuring that you’re always on the same page in terms of communication. For that, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have regular one-on-one meetings on the calendar. 

These meetings can help you better understand your employee’s communication style, how they work, and how they ask for help, and can set a tone for how the two of you work together in the future. As a manager, encourage all of your direct reports to come to your one-on-ones with any questions they may have or any challenges they may be facing. 

Show your team that you care

Remember what was said during past one-on-one meetings to strengthen your relationship. With Fellow, you can see a history of every 1-on-1 conversation you’ve had.

One on One Meeting Tool

3 Implement a change management process

As you navigate managing team members, instill a change management process that can help everyone adopt changes as seamlessly as possible. It’s essential to explain details like:

  • Why the change is happening
  • Why the change is important to long-term success
  • How the change will be implemented

There will likely be questions immediately after the change is announced and once the change is put into action. It’s crucial that your team knows they can trust you with these questions. Be honest and upfront if you don’t know the answer right away, and let them know you’ll find out on their behalf.

4 Seek feedback, not approval 

Keep in mind that, usually, older employees have more experience in the workforce. This coincides with them being full of knowledge and expertise that others simply don’t have, so be open to hearing their feedback on varying types of issues and work processes. Listen to their insights that you may not have and take advantage of their different way of thinking and what it brings to the table. Seeking their feedback allows you to be more open-minded with solutions, processes, and implementing something that works for everyone!

5 Understand communication style

When managing all different types of employees, do your best to understand their communication styles. While you may want to start meetings being direct and jumping right to the point, some employees may want to spend a few moments making small talk and getting to know the team better.

Similarly, if your team uses technology like Slack to communicate, others may not be used to this method and may prefer email or face-to-face conversations while they learn various software. Whatever the case may be, find out your employees’ communication styles early on so nothing falls through the cracks.

6 Become an active listener

On a similar note, once you clearly understand how an individual would like to communicate, be sure you’re an active listener in all conversations. This means focusing on the speaker, understanding the message they’re conveying, and responding thoughtfully. This highly valued interpersonal skill will let older individuals know that you value what they have to say and are completely focused on the conversation.

Being an active listener will allow you to build trust, instill a connection, and be better about identifying and solving problems as they arise.

7 Focus on results, not process

You don’t want any of your direct reports to feel like you’re there to micromanage and tell everyone what to do. Instead, pay attention to the needs of your team are without passing judgment. Keep an open mind regarding what process individuals may need or ask for in order to succeed. 

If you’re happy about the end results, check your ego at the door and put your employees’ ability to succeed first.

“A good manager, just like a good coach, will help her team focus on the problems that matter most. I may not have been capable of producing the same quality of design work as my most experienced reports, but because I was overseeing multiple areas, I was able to direct my report’s attention to where their skills will be most valuable, including finding opportunities for my senior team members to collaborate with other designers on the team.”

– Julie Zhuo, author of “The Making of a Manager”

8 Beat imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome happens to everyone, and it’s often challenging to avoid self-deprecation — especially at work. This syndrome can be taken up a level or two when you manage someone more experienced. You may get in your own head and question whether or not you have the knowledge, experience, or know how to manage someone who has been in the workforce longer than you have, held more jobs, and accumulated more knowledge overall.

However, don’t sell yourself short. Believe in yourself and know that you got to where you are within your career for a reason, too.

“I’ve come to realize that the best way to grow as a design manager is precisely by managing the most skilled designers possible. My first-hand experience of witnessing great designers at work has helped me develop my understanding of what great design looks like, and helps our team produce better work. So, if you happen to have the Usain Bolt of design on your team, embrace this for all it’s worth, and go for the gold.”

– Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of Manager

9 Be authentic 

Another great way to build a strong working relationship with an experienced employee is to evoke an authentic leadership style. When there’s a clear difference in age or experience between you and someone you’re managing, being authentic can go a long way. 

To give your authenticity a boost, try:

  • Showing more of your personality and your true self
  • Making sure your team feels seen, valued, and heard
  • Owning your mistakes and celebrating wins
  • Being open to questions, comments, and concerns  

10 Give recognition 

Just like you would to any of your direct reports, make sure to give older employees praise and recognition for their hard work. An older employee is just like everyone else, and they too seek recognition for a job well done. You can give them this recognition during one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, team meetings, or when you see them throughout the day.

Mistakes to avoid when managing older employees

Once you’ve mastered these 10 tips, keep these mistakes in mind: 

  • Assuming the age difference is a problem. While it’s likely something an employee has noticed, don’t go into the working relationship thinking there’s an issue when there isn’t one.
  • Not providing adequate training. Just because an experienced employee has a longer resume than others doesn’t mean they don’t need training when they start a new job or role within an organization. 
  • Failing to be relatable. As a manager, try to find common ground and ways to relate with all your employees. 
  • Acting like you know more simply because you’re their manager. Take advantage of employee’s experiences and never act as though you have more simply because you’re their supervisor. 
  • Assuming someone is stuck in their ways and can’t adapt. Not everyone is going to be resistant to change. Remember that experienced employyes have likely been through more change than most!
  • Believing they’ll struggle with technology. Give an employee the benefit of the doubt they might be just as techsavvy as other team members you manage. Don’t automatically assume someone needs more training to do simple and straightforward technological tasks.

Age is just a number

As a manager, treat your entire team equally. Remember that as long as you remain respectful and approachable in your management style, you’ll likely succeed with all of your direct reports. Vulnerability and transparency can go a long way while being a manager. Having a team means sharing ideas, helping one another, and collaborating to produce great results!

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