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We know you will be shocked by this but we are featuring two articles with opposite perspectives on Millennials as managers. One article offers support to the Millennial new to managing those who are (in some cases) the age of their parents. The second says Millennial managers cause “negative emotions” in the workplace (spurred on by the anger of their older subordinates).

It’s like the two positions we often hear on the internet—either a positive perspective advocating education and support for Millennials or a negative perspective that we don’t think really makes sense (and that is certainly not consistent with the empirical data). In the event you have not read our extensive writing on generations—here are links to our blog posts and here are links to full length articles that summarize the data rather than repeating anecdotes.

This is the new normal: Get used to it

The first article is published over at the Money CNN page and is a guide to helping the Millennial manager be successful. This younger boss/older employee is the new normal say the authors and they offer the following statistic to support their claim.

By 2020, Millennials will make up 35% of the global workforce, according to ManpowerGroup, a consulting firm.

Then they move on to saying the whole thing is a little awkward for both sides of the relationship at first but you just need to get over it (again, on both sides). Here are some of their hints for these “new normal” Millennial managers.

Focus on the unique experience each of you bring to the table and not on your generational differences.

Give flexibility to both younger and older employees so that if something happens in their personal lives, they can take care of it. (This gives the benefit of work/life balance to all employees.)

They also address the dynamic between Millennials and their younger supervisees (Generation Z for lack of a better label yet). They note the ability of younger employees to multitask but also point out the possibility of a lack of attention to detail and responsibility. All in all, the purpose of this article is to educate and help the Millennial manager succeed.

Millennial managers result in angry, fearful, and disgusted subordinates

The second article is based on research done in Germany (61 separate companies, mostly in the service industry, but also finance, manufacturing and trade) showing that roughly ¼ of the managers were Millennials. Their finding was that the larger the age gap between the young manager and the older subordinate—the more the subordinates reported negative emotions (like anger, fear, and even disgust) over the last six months. So are Millennial managers working in ways that promote “anger, fright and disgust” in their older subordinates?

The researchers call the age gap between younger manager and older subordinate a “status incongruence” and a “violation of career norms” with one summarizing blogger saying it is “like being lectured on your dress sense by your precocious 8-year-old nephew”. The researchers also report that companies whose employees experienced more negative emotions were also measurably less productive on all counts. They conclude that when you have younger managers with older subordinates you are going to have worse performance because younger managers result in older subordinates being resentful and frustrated due to the status incongruence and the violation of career norms.

The researchers found that if older subordinates “suppressed their emotions” when interacting with younger supervisors there was less negativity than in those workplaces where employees “expressed their emotions more freely”. The researchers note that these negative attitudes may be contributed to, at least in part, by the change to merit-based promotions rather than seniority-based promotions. In other words, older subordinates who have “put in their time” resent the younger managers who have received promotion based on merit.

From an office management perspective, this is not the fault of the Millennial manager but rather the problem of the resentful (“fearful, angry and disgusted”) older supervisee, and the problem expected in an evolving workforce and culture. Both sides will have to accommodate these workplace changes. In truth, this is similar to the kinds of disruption and resentment that rising status of women and minority managers face, as well. More entrenched workers who are used to a now out-of-date corporate culture are going to feel marginalized. Benefiting from their experience and ability will require building a bridge to them, and encouraging them to cross over. Training and education in the workplace on the reasons for the change to a merit-based promotional system as well as training on how to work together regardless of your age and “time put in” can help older subordinates who are resentful about being passed over for promotional opportunities.

The sort of advice in the first article lifts up the Millennial manager rather than blaming them for the “fear, anger and disgust” the older subordinate may struggle with due to their own sense (according to these authors anyway) of having fallen behind as the workplace rules changed. Consulting with Millennial managers on ways they can sensitively broach this topic and use the skills and experiences brought to the table by their older subordinates while still pressing forward to new programs and projects would likely be beneficial to the entire enterprise.

Kunze, F Menges, JI 2017. Younger supervisors, older subordinates: An organizational-level study of age differences, emotions and performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, Volume 38, Issue 4, Pages: 461–486.

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