Managing for Change: Why younger managers need education too !

Reproduced with the permission of the author, Heidi Holmes of

In recent weeks, there seems to be a growing interest in the dynamics between a younger boss and an older employee. As our population ages and older workers stay in the workforce longer, the traditional hierarchy of an organisation is changing. Where age often determined seniority, for the first time in history we are seeing an emerging trend where older workers are now reporting to younger managers.

The concept of ‘retirement’ for many older workers is either something they don’t aspire to or something that for the moment is out of reach. The GFC, mid-life divorce, increased life expectancy and the desire to have a comfortable retirement, are either driving older workers back to work or keeping them in the workforce longer.

As with any cultural or demographic shift, this obviously presents some challenges that organisations need to address in order to ensure a cohesive and productive workplace.

Many recruiters and hiring managers hold negative assumptions and stereotypes about older workers: reluctance to embrace change, not tech savvy and an inability to work with younger colleagues.

Too often, the burden seems to be placed on older workers to adapt to working with a younger boss.

There is plenty of documented advice for older workers. One of the most prevalent is a need to show a willingness to embrace change and use new technologies. That equates to ‘get an online profile’! At Adage, we also advise mature jobseekers in an interview situation to address the ‘elephant in the room’. Even though the interviewee might not directly ask the older worker how they would handle a younger boss, they are probably thinking it. Therefore, we advise our jobseekers to address this issue directly, reiterating they actually enjoy working with younger people and providing an example of how they have worked well with younger colleagues in the past.

However, if you turn the tables, less expectation is placed on younger managers to understand how best to work with and manage older workers.

Surely there is an important role for younger managers to play here as well?

For the first time in history, four generations of workers could find themselves working together. This is a fact organisations can no longer ignore and if they continue to do so for better work place ‘harmony’ in the short term, they stand to face more pain in the long term. We are only at the start of this phenonomon – therefore educating younger managers on the important role and contribution older workers make is imperative to ensure the longer-term growth and competitiveness of the organisation.

Younger managers who effectively work with their older colleagues stand to gain from not only having a more engaged employee, but also learn some valuable life lessons that aren’t taught at university. Older workers not only have valuable work experience, they also have life experience.

Where a younger boss may find themselves in a challenging situation for the first time, chances are their older counterpart has dealt with this situation or similar before. The older worker can act as a trusted advisor, mentor or sounding board providing advice and guidance on how to best manage a situation.

This type of scenario playing out is not far fetched. How often would a father or mother act as a ‘guide’ for their Gen Y children? Therefore, why could an older colleague not fulfil this same role? Sure, respect must come into the equation. However the first step in obtaining mutual respect in the workforce is to encourage an environment where all opinions and contributions are valued. Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic status, mutual respect is something all organisations should encourage.

If organisations continue to promote and aspire to be an employer of choice, they need to ensure processes are in place to foster a culture where the burden does not simple rest on one individual to come to the table with a willingness and openness to embrace change.

SilverTemp is a labour hire agency in the Northern Rivers of NSW with a specific focus on placing mature age job seekers into casual, part time and temporary employment.

Contact us for more information at or phone 0448 244 111


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