As more millennials rise through the ranks, companies may want to be ready for the backlash from older workers that could impact the bottom line.
Specifically, a study of 8,000 workers at 61 German companies found that employees who were older than their bosses reported more anger and fear than if they were working for someone older than themselves.
Reported in the Journal of Organizational Psychology, the study finds that in the companies where employees expressed such negative emotions, there was a 9% drop in financial performance and productivity as compared to those who employees didn't report such feelings.
"They contradict common career and status norms," says Florian Kunze, a co-author of the paper and a professor at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Unfortunately, those negative feelings from such employees can spread to the rest of the workers, she says.
"When faced with being supervised by a younger person, older employees are forced to recognize their lack of progress," Kunze and his co-author wrote in the paper. "Working daily under a younger supervisor, older subordinates are constantly reminded that they have failed to keep pace."
So what's the solution if you're a younger manager trying to work with older subordinates?
Jodi Glickman, writing in Harvard Business Review, suggests being confident and open-minded and soliciting feedback.
"Irrespective of specific deals or projects, let people know that you care about continuous improvement. If you message that you’re open to receiving feedback, people will be more likely to give it," she writes.
Kunze suggests younger bosses "create a professional distance with the older subordinate and provide autonomy to [them] by setting clear targets and goals."
Other tips from experts include:
- Forget posturing. These older employees know you're the boss, so don't constantly say stupid things like "I want it done this way because I'm the boss." Acting as if you're superior to them is a sure way to alienate workers of all ages.
- Seek input. Even if you were older, there is no way you can know everything. So, don't be afraid to ask questions of your team, especially if they have knowledge about long relationships with customers, or can identify key players at a competitor. They will have the "emotional intelligence" to help you navigate issues that you may not have encountered before.
- Don't judge. Just because someone isn't a whiz with Instagram or doesn't know about Snapchat doesn't mean this employee is a dinosaur with no useful knowledge. For all you know, this person is very innovative and creative and sees solutions that can bring great success to the team and the company. If you don't want to be judged unfairly by older workers, then show them the same respect.
What else can a young boss do to develop a good working relationship with older employees?