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.


Keeping Family “Out” of the Family Business

The parents in a family business usually encourage their children to join the family business at an early age. The pitch to join the business can be as active as a full court press or as passive as a passing mention. When they finally decide to join, the parents are usually thrilled that their children are following them in their footsteps.

But what happens when you don’t want them to join? More…