Millennial managers, typically born between 1980 and 1995, are increasingly taking leadership roles, often faced with the challenge of managing team members older than themselves. Age differences of up to 35 years are not uncommon, bringing about variations in values, beliefs, and preferences. Age-inclusive leadership is proving to play a crucial role in keeping everyone motivated, as evidenced by research conducted by Professor Kim De Meulenaere and Doctoral Researcher Laura De Boom.
The "Millennial Manager" trend, highlighted recently on TikTok, celebrates and critiques the leadership style of young managers for its differences from what we are accustomed to with older leaders. More and more young employees are taking on authoritative roles within their organizations, directing older employees. Millennials, now between 28 and 43 years old, are no longer just starting out and often find themselves at the helm of a team. The increase in millennial managers, combined with ongoing workforce aging, means organizations are encountering diverse age groups within their teams more frequently.
While age diversity poses several challenges such as potential feelings of exclusion or workplace tensions, earlier research suggests numerous associated benefits. Both young and older employees possess different skills and knowledge, enabling mutual learning. Therefore, emphasizing intrinsic work motivation becomes crucial. Intrinsic motivation occurs when individuals genuinely enjoy and take interest in their jobs.
The research indicates that age-inclusive leadership can contribute to the intrinsic motivation of employees. This involves a leadership style specifically focused on embracing age diversity within the workforce. This is achieved by accepting and managing age differences, valuing employees of all ages for their unique contributions, knowledge, and experience.
Caution with Significant Age Differences between Manager and Employee
Team leaders significantly influence the work experience of their team members. Hence, it's important for managers to be aware of existing age differences, especially between themselves and their employees. Significant age differences diminish communication and social integration, causing employees to feel less heard, accepted, or appreciated. Age-inclusive leadership is thus even more critical when employees are significantly younger or older than their manager.
"Our research indicates that inclusive leadership has an equally positive effect on all ages. Whether you belong to the older or younger generation, motivation will always increase as the leader demonstrates more age-inclusive behavior. However, a manager should be mindful of existing age differences between themselves and employees. Leaders can mitigate the disadvantages of significant age differences by practicing age inclusivity."
Becoming an Age-Inclusive Leader
If an organization aims to adopt age-inclusive leadership, certain behaviors can have a substantial impact:
- Facilitate two-way communication between different generations: Younger employees can learn from older colleagues, and vice versa, promoting easy integration and acceptance among diverse age groups.
- Acknowledge and value the contribution of all team members equally, regardless of whether they belong to the same generation as you. It's your responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity to develop and progress, irrespective of their age.
- Create a safe environment enabling everyone to freely engage in discussions, and listen with genuine interest.
- Demonstrate awareness of existing age diversity in your team and behave as a role model for others, reflecting your commitment to creating and maintaining an age-diverse team.
"It's becoming more common for employees to work under a younger manager. While it's expected that this might decrease motivation among older employees, a younger leader can counter this by adopting an age-inclusive leadership style. In this case, it's essential for the younger leader to actively involve the older employees and consider them as equals, rather than solely focusing on their own generation. Of course, this applies equally to older leaders managing younger employees."
 De Meulenaere, K., Boone, C., & Buyl, T. (2015). Unraveling the impact of workforce age diversity on labor productivity: The moderating role of firm size and job security. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 37(2), 193–212. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2036