Age discrimination often brings to mind older workers being overlooked for promotion or being seen as too grey or too expensive and thus managed out of a company. But what happens when it goes the other way? What happens if you're a fast-tracker who has risen to manage a team in your 20s? How do you deal with being seen as too inexperienced? How do you manage colleagues twice your age?
Of course, it goes without saying that, as a manager, you have to deliver. Do this, and almost everyone — young and old — will respect you. But there are additional strategies that can help smooth the path. Consider these tips:
1. Overcome your insecurities. The biggest worry most people have is that they won't be taken seriously or respected. You need to overcome those insecurities. Tell yourself that you were chosen for this position because you are the right person for the job. And act normally. Don't apologise for your position. Don't be overly deferential to people who are older than you. Engage and be confident.
2. Understand others' work habits. People who are much older than you may behave differently than you. Their approach to work might be more transactional and formal, and they may draw a much starker line between their work and social lives. This doesn't necessarily mean they have a problem with you. If you have any doubts about this, talk to them about how they like to work, rather than letting worries fester.
3. Remember, too, that youth has many good points. You are likely to be good with technology, be energetic, and have fresh points of view and an open mind. You might also want to remind yourself that young people have accomplished extraordinary things. Many of Silicon Valley's best-known entrepreneurs were CEOs of billion-dollar companies in their 20s, and Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France at 39.
4. Ask older employees for advice based on their experience. This will help you build bridges and convey respect (and, besides, their experience is likely to be useful). But this should be part of recognising that everyone has something to contribute.
5. Understand the ideal older employee. Not only will most older workers have years of experience, they will probably have made their way through all the workplace angst and issues that many younger staff are still struggling with. Your dream older direct report will be someone who knows the role and the company inside out and has no designs on your job.
6. Watch out for the detractors. Your nightmare older employee, however, is a person who refuses to accept your authority because of your age. If you've done everything you can to find common ground and they still undermine you, you need to lay down the law. Set up a one-to-one meeting and explain that you are their manager and have certain expectations of them. Tell them you want the relationship to work, but if they continue to act this way, it will become a performance management issue.
7. Remember that appearances matter. If you want to be seen as more mature than your years, dress on the sober side of what is normal in your company. Talk and carry yourself like a professional. And, of course, don't have an online presence that contradicts the image you are trying to portray in the office. This isn't just about posting inappropriate pictures. While a Twitter feed full of cat GIFs won't prevent you from being a good 25-year-old manager, it will give ammunition to anyone who has doubts about you.
8. Get yourself out there. Volunteer for roles within the organisation that convey seniority and leadership. For example, if someone asks for people who are prepared to write blogposts or help with corporate charitable work, put your hand up. Activities such as public speaking that put you in a very visible position of authority are fantastic.
Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jack Hagel, an FM magazine editorial director, at Jack.Hagel@aicpa-cima.com.