Increasingly workplaces are embracing meritocracy. Promotion is no longer based on time served, but instead on choosing the best person for the job. This has been aided by the introduction of more formal assessment, interview panels and other processes by which anyone who shows merit can earn themselves promotion.
Arguably this is one of the most sweeping overhauls that we have seen in the modern workplace. However, it has led to one interesting side effect that has the potential to cause serious repercussions for the morale and behaviour of workforces everywhere. With promotion no longer depending so heavily on the length of an employee’s career, we increasingly see young, highly motivated individuals being promoted to positions of leadership in favour of older colleagues.
Younger people in leadership positions
There is little doubt that a young leader can bring significant fresh insights to a company, which may help them move forwards – particularly in times of economic crisis where new ways of working are often required. However, this can only truly be the case if they have the support and respect of their subordinates. This can be a real challenge if they are looked upon as inexperienced, too green, or if others are simply jealous of their accelerated rise to the top. This age-based discrimination is a common challenge faced by young leaders in businesses around the world.
A study in Germany reported that the issue was most pronounced when the age gap was wider. This is perhaps unsurprising – for those who measure life progress using those around us as a benchmark, it can be an uncomfortable experience to see a much younger person who should, in theory at least, still be our subordinate, suddenly in a position of leadership. The same study showed that the negative emotions these employees felt towards their boss had an impact on their productivity whilst at work. Put simply, people often felt less respect, and thus less motivation to work hard, to impress a boss they didn’t feel deserved to be there.
Addressing the issues
If this sounds familiar, it is an unfortunate position to find yourself in – but not an insurmountable challenge. Various strategies including career counselling for employees which can help them vocalise and address their concerns. There are important considerations too in terms of hierarchy and tone of voice. A continued push to show that collaborative working is important – and that their experience is truly valued – can help youthful bosses to enthuse an older workforce, and negate some of the negative impacts that their promotion may inadvertently trigger.
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