7 Tips on Managing an Employee Who’s Significantly Older Than You

How to strike a balance that works for both sides

The younger-boss dynamic is one that’s becoming more and more commonplace, especially as entrepreneurial millennials are rising from the ranks at warp speed.

When managing someone who is 10 to 20 or more years older than you, just remember: “You’re on the same team, and there are things each of you is going to learn from the other,” says Shani Hilton, executive editor of news at BuzzFeed. At 30, Hilton knows a thing or two about managing older employees, and after several years at the company, she’s as buoyant as ever about her gig and everything that comes with it. “I think the only real challenge is to create a dynamic where we’re truly in a give-and-take relationship.” Difficult? Maybe. Doable? Definitely. Use these tips to help you avoid potential missteps and get the most out of your older employees.

1. Be authoritative but not authoritarian.

You aren’t helming a dictatorship. Researchers find that workers with autonomy report higher rates of job satisfaction. Seasoned workers have been in the workforce for decades. They’ve earned the right to have a say in how they do their job.

2. Ask questions.

You’re the boss, but that doesn’t mean you know more than your employees. They’ve been at this (a lot) longer than you, and they have years of industry- or company-specific knowledge. Use that.

3. Involve employees in the decision-making process.

Treat seasoned workers like the priceless assets they are. Show them their perspective and experience are valued.

4. Be open to feedback.

This isn’t older employees’ first rodeo, so they have insight you may not. They were building digital brands while you were finishing Integrated Marketing 101. Take advantage of their expertise.

5. Get to know your employees.

Older workers often feel overlooked amidst a sea of millennials. You don’t have to be best buds, but talk to your workers. Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they skydive?

6. Encourage continued professional growth.

Find out your employees’ goals and offer support in achieving them. Maybe the print magazine’s managing editor would rather work on Web content. Recommend a digital journalism course—and get the company to pay for it!

7. Keep an open mind.

“What I’ve learned,” says Hilton, “is age has very little to do with whether someone does well in this environment: 22-year-olds can be overly cautious sticks in the mud, and 52-year-olds can be wonderfully experimental.”

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