Why working under younger bosses may hurt productivity

'Working daily under a younger supervisor, older subordinates are constantly reminded that they have failed to keep pace'

Having a younger boss can negatively affect employees' work performance, according to a new study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Researchers surveyed about 8,000 employees across 61 German companies about the age of their supervisors and direct reports, emotions on the job, and work performance.

They found that workers at companies with a larger number of younger managers and older direct reports on average tended to feel negative emotions—such as anger or fear—on the job more frequently. Companies with a higher percentage of employees feeling negative emotions reported worse financial and organization performance over a six-month period than companies that had a lower percentage of employees who felt negative emotions.

Study's co-author Florian Kunze, said one possible explanation for the findings is "status incongruence": that is, when an older person is supervised by someone younger, the direct report compares him or herself to the boss. "Working daily under a younger supervisor, older subordinates are constantly reminded that they have failed to keep pace," Kunze and colleagues wrote.

"These negative feelings can also spread throughout a company also to employees who are not directly part of the unusual age supervisory relationship," Kunze told the Washington Post.

To mitigate these negative effects—without refusing to promote deserving, but young, employees—Kunze and colleagues recommended that companies be more sensitive to the feelings of older workers. They suggested training managers to supervise older reports and assessing employees' feelings about their working relationships.

"Recent research has shown that young managers are most successful in these situations if they create a professional distance with the older subordinate and provide autonomy to [them] by setting clear targets and goals," Kunze said (McGregor, "On Leadership," Washington Post, 11/28; Fradera, "Research Digest," British Psychology Society, 11/18).

The manager's guide to new hire onboarding—no matter employees' age

Retaining new hires is one of the longstanding challenges in health care. Despite manager and HR efforts, newly hired employees continue to turn over at a rate far above that of more tenured staff members. In fact, new hire turnover is a disproportionate driver of an institution's overall turnover rate. Nationally, employees with less than one year of tenure make up nearly 25 percent of all health care turnover.

But there's good news: better employee onboarding can dramatically reduce these rates. And we have two toolkits to help you improve the onboarding process, including editable templates, checklists, and guides to equip both HR and managers to efficiently and effectively onboard new employees.


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