When walking onto a new job as a young professional, it can often be a time filled with excitement. As young nonprofit managers, we are usually ready to take on the world, succeed in our job and impact the lives of others. We are ready to make a difference.
And then reality sets in… you are “the new kid,” and it doesn’t matter what title is on your business card, you are still the newest and youngest employee. And then you meet your team; the team of employees that you now manage. It is your responsibility to motivate them, approve vacation time and discipline when appropriate. (Among all the other roles and responsibilities you learned about in HR class.)
What do you do when your team has been working there since you were in diapers? Lets face it, they could be your parents age, or even your grandparents age… and they are reporting to you? To conquer the task of managing more seasoned employees, young professionals should gain experience early, practice effective communication and ignore age barriers.
The first thing young professionals should do is to start managing people and gaining as much experience in HR as you can, as early as you can. Ok, so you might not have the budget to hire an expansive staff, but perhaps you can take on an intern from a local college, a volunteer who will lead a project or a high school student wanting to explore a career path. It doesn’t matter if they are on the payroll, just gain some experiences managing various people in different circumstances. The more people you manage and the more experiences you are faced with, the better prepared you will be as a manager for the challenging ones that come along down the road. Don’t let your age translate into “unexperienced manager”- gain people managing skills.
The second tip is to remember to communicate effectively with your team. This is lesson that is taught in most HR classes, but it takes on a special meaning when dealing with a younger supervisor and a subordinate who is, lets say, more “seasoned.” As a younger person, texting is the quickest way to get ahold of me, a tweet or FB message can be used to update me on a situation at the office and an email is a very “formal” method of communication. I have learned that my more seasoned employees don’t know how to text, don’t even have a Twitter or FaceBook account and a typed memo is the only way to formally communicate. As a young manager, it is important to realize that the rest of the world may not communicate the same as you, so be sure to communicate with your team in a way they will get the message. Remember, successful communication is not only what message is sent, but also what message is recieved. Don’t let generational differences get in the way of your communication with your employees.
Finally, age is really just a number… as a young professional you are probably more conscious of the age variances than others are. Don’t make age an issue if it isn’t. Just focus on succeeding in your position and managing your team, and don’t stress over the age difference. If you start stressing about it, you will make an issue of something that isn’t one.
As a young professional, I can guarantee that at some point one of your employees will ask the question: “How old are you?” As long as you have gained some experience managing people, remember to communicate effectively across generations and you don’t make an issue out of age, then answering the question is easy. Nothing to hide. I’m 30.