Mind the Gap – Managing Employees Older Than You in a Family Business

It can feel awkward and intimidating for a younger manager to manage older employees.

It usually happens sooner in a family firm because children often move rapidly through the ranks before other non-family employees. They are usually on a fast track and often skip through middle management. Some may even enter at the top management level.

1. Perception

From the start, a young family member entering the family business can already be at a big disadvantage.

Non-family employees, especially older employees, may perceive your fast track as unfair and a form of entitlement. It can be hard to shake this perception if your career path is not handled properly.

Also unique to a family business is that these older employees have watched you grow up either in the business or outside in your early personal life. They have already formed opinions of you in most cases. Most of these employees will accept you, while others may try to take advantage of you and “test” you.


2. The Path You Lead to Managing Them Makes a Big Difference

In our family business, I began working around 12 years old after school and summers.

I began working full-time during my second year of college. When I began working full-time, I worked in a separate small division with very few employees for several years. It served almost like a bridge between being a kid working after school and a more serious career position within the company. After shaking off the younger child stigma, I entered the business from the lowest level position and worked my way up. Working in all functional areas of the business helped me gain experience and working alongside others helped me to develop relationships with other employees. More importantly, together they helped me to have a more balanced understanding of how future changes impacted both the employee and the business. When others realize you understand how change is going to affect them, they genuinely accept you more.


Shared Vision

by Leslie Dashew

In my many years of specializing in work with family businesses and families of wealth, I have found that the single most important indicator of success for these families is a shared vision. When a family shares a clearly articulated picture of the future, they have the foundation for making decisions about the use of resources, for selecting members to carry out responsibilities and for creating guidelines on how the family will function.

When members of a family understand that they are all trying to achieve the same objectives and they recognize their interdependence, they take better care of their relationships. This process is especially important for families who share ownership of active or passive assets and/or when overall leadership is shared by more than one person. More…