The rapid changes in technology are turning some long-established organizational hierarchy practices upside down. In other cases, business execs are challenging the organizational status quo, because they’re looking for fresh ideas or a new perspective. Whatever the reason, leaders are promoting younger people into positions that require them to supervise much older team members. If you want to avoid a hit in performance that often accompanies this kind of change, check out this advice.
A recent article in the Journal of Organizational Psychology reported the negative outcomes many firms experience when they implement “age-inverse” management changes. In one study, companies that did not oversee this process well experienced a 9% drop in financial and productivity targets. Older employees often resent having younger managers. They may deliberately slow down the work process or engage in passive-aggressive behavior. These situations can be particularly tense when an employee in his 60s suddenly finds himself reporting to a 28-year old manager who may be younger than his son.
Dr. Florian Kunze, a faculty member at the University of Konstanze, Germany, conducted a large-scale study on this topic and advises senior leadership to be aware of ‘emotional contagion’ when they put a young team member in charge of older staffers. Kunze advises providing the new manager with plenty of training and support. Depending on the individuals involved, you may need to coach the new manager on a daily basis.
Kunze points out 2 specific ways that younger managers can succeed in these situations, although this advice often holds true regardless of the age of involved individuals:
- Maintain a professional distance
- Allow for autonomy after setting specific goals and targets
Here’s another piece of advice. New managers shouldn’t feel pressured to know everything, and they shouldn’t allow fear of making a mistake to paralyze them. Older staff members often know plenty about business and the organization. Young managers should use them as a resource on occasion. Above all, maintaining an atmosphere of respect and professionalism will improve attitudes and outcomes.