My friend oversees a medical program at a university. It’s important to note that my friend is 24, and the university is his alma mater, where graduated just two years ago.
He now handles many aspects of the program and is the direct contact point for students. Yet, he found it challenging to transition from student to manager—at least in the eyes of others.
The students he manages in the program were freshman when he was a senior, and according to him, they still view him as an upperclassmen.
Unlike an older manager or instructor, the students don’t take my friend as serious when it comes to responding to emails, using professional language/structure in emails and meeting his requested deadlines.
It proved difficult for him to get the students to take him seriously, and I believe many younger managers deal with this same issue.
According to an Ernst & Young study, around 87 percent of Gen Y managers in the survey took on a new management role between 2008 and 2013.
We always hear about age discrimination when it comes to older workers, but what about the younger employees?
Due to stereotypes, younger employees, and especially those in management positions, usually get a bad rep and many times this occurs before the worker has even had a chance to prove him or herself.
Or, like in my friend’s case, because of their age, younger managers are not taken seriously and given the respect and professional courtesy that older managers would receive.
What are the young people to do?
Below are three simple steps for any young manager to take when exercising authority in the workplace, all courtesy of a real-life example:
The say respect isn’t given, but earned. Well, I say any worker must demand it, no matter the role. And this is also true for a young manager.
Knowing that people will already question your leadership skills due to your age, young managers must demand respect from their employees. This isn’t about being rude or harsh, but being firm. If you desire to be called “mr.” or “mrs.” make that clear and don’t allow instances to slide where your employees may blatantly refer to you as otherwise.
To be taken seriously, you’ll have to show your employees that you expect to be respected. For example, my friend would ask the students to not talk over him, but instead raise their hands whenever they had a question. Yet, time and time again, students would cut him off, interrupt him and speak over him as he addressed them. And they did this thinking it was okay because he younger and more understanding; his requests were not meant to be taken seriously like a “real” manager.
Yet, as this continued occurring my friend had to stand his ground, reminding the students of his requests and implementing consequences if they were not followed. This wasn’t to be strict or overbearing, but to show the students that he deserved their respect and would not settle for anything less.
Set Clear Expectations and Stick to Them
Another way to get your employees to take you seriously as a younger manager is by setting clear expectations and sticking to them. When you’re younger, people will think you’re inexperienced and can sometimes try to take disadvantage of you.
For example, my friend’s program gave students the opportunity to take some tests to help them prepare for medical school. The students were to pay $50, and as an incentive to complete the full program and finish every test, the students would be reimbursed upon completion.
One student, who had been absent from one class, requested a copy of the tests. Upon sending them to her, my friend received an email from the student just 10 minutes later saying she’d completed all three tests. He looked over her answers and it was pretty clear that she just filled in answers to complete the tests before the deadline.
Now, this student was thinking that, unlike an older instructor, this young, recent-graduate would let it slide and give her the $50 back she initially paid. Yet, my friend refused, explaining to her the initial expectations of the testing incentive and that she did not meet them.
When you set expectations as a young manager, stick to them. If you waiver and allow things to “slide” without implementing consequences, your employees are less likely to take you seriously and give you the respect you deserve.
This final step is very important. People already have a myriad of stereotypes for millennials; don’t allow “unprofessional” to be another as a young manager.
My friend has received emails from students using slang and with grammatical errors; yet his emails are always business professional. Even the responding email from the young woman wasn’t very professional as she expressed her disappointment in his decision not to reimburse her, yet he still addressed her as instructor to student, and not peer-to-peer.
Staying in a professional mode will show your employees, whether your age or older, that you are just that—a professional. There is a time for business and a time for pleasure, and by always conducting yourself in a professional manner, you will show your workers that your age has nothing to do with your “maturity level” and that you understand the dynamics of a work environment.