Fixer: No respect for young managers

How to support managers who are not taken seriously by older staff

We are a multi-site retailer and over the past few years we have replaced many managers who have retired with graduates and other people from our fast-track scheme. As a result, in a few of our stores we have young managers (under 25) who report they aren’t respected by their staff, some of whom are 50-plus. They say they just aren’t being listened to and their initiatives get ignored. I don’t think more training is the answer here, but I don’t know what is?

I understand this conundrum very well, because I was a younger manager – one of the youngest in a particular government department in the civil service – at a time when taking on a leadership position below the age of 25 meant getting approval from our central office. 

I went into the role, as many young managers do, thinking I knew how to do it all and would be able to immediately engage employees. What made the difference to me was finding an individual with many years of service who became my mentor and taught me how to embrace other people’s ideas, genuinely listen to them and communicate with them in a way they would respond to. If you take one single action to help your managers, buddying them up with the right people is invaluable. 

You say more training isn’t the answer, but has this cohort actually been helped to work with people different to themselves? When you are young, your views of what motivates older workers may well be based on stereotypes, and while you don’t want to puncture your managers’ eagerness, a little education can go a long way.

At the same time, the issue may not necessarily lie with the managers themselves. Older employees may feel threatened by a rapidly changing workforce. They may even be displaying open hostility that you will need to manage from a disciplinary perspective. The multi-generational workforce throws up as many challenges as it does opportunities, so find out what is really behind this disconnect before deciding how to tackle it.