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How should millennial managers supervise older subordinates?

Tribune Content Agency logoTribune Content Agency 4/21/2019 By Kathleen Furore, Tribune Content Agency
a group of people sitting at a table in front of a laptop: Young managers should consider the learning styles that work best with each employee, especially those in an older generation. © Dreamstime Young managers should consider the learning styles that work best with each employee, especially those in an older generation.

DEAR READERS: I've covered the topic of what millennials and Gen Z want in the workplace and how managers can best interact with those young employees. But what about millennial supervisors/managers who have a staff comprised of some older workers, those in their late 40s, 50s and beyond? What should those managers know about what these more seasoned professionals expect?

I asked Wayne Pernell, Ph.D., a global executive coach and high-performance leadership advisor at DynamicLeader.com, who has worked with entrepreneurs and executives for more than three decades, for some perspective on how young managers can deal with older workers in ways that won't make them come across as privileged millennials who climbed the ladder a too quickly

"We look at how one group likes to be treated as if it's an across-the-board rule for each cohort when the only group we should be looking at is the human one," Pernell says. "While millennials have been raised a certain way and, yes, as a group, tend to adapt to and adopt new technologies fairly easily, that's reflective only of the environment in which they were raised. And each of us, no matter what age, had an environment in which we were raised."

With that thought as a backdrop, Pernell says to remember two key points to supervising someone, and they apply whether you are supervising someone older or younger than you are.

"First, we all want to be acknowledged for our experience and what we have learned along the way. So supervising up or down, older or younger, it's helpful to attempt to understand what the other person's perspective is and has been," he says. "That leads to point number two: We need to be aware of what's known as 'The Curse of Knowledge.' That means we think that because we know something, we assume that others know what we know."

What does that mean for a millennial who is supervising employees who range in age from Gen X to baby boomer?

"It's important to start with acknowledging their experience to date. Note that what once was has evolved to what now is," says Pernell, who suggests looking for ways to bridge the technology gaps.

One example: "Boomers tend to prefer face-to-face or even written communication; younger generations prefer text messages and IMs," information from the American Management Association notes.

One way to begin building that bridge is to consider the learning styles that work best with each employee, Pernell continues.

In general, the older the person the more hands-on "show me" learning will need to happen, "because what is intuitive for a millennial is likely not for older workers," Pernell says.

"Be patient. Tell. Show. Do. And then have them teach back," he suggests. "It may take a little longer, but the devotion and dedication that comes back as a reward is priceless to a culture of camaraderie."

(Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.)

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