my managers are younger than me!

A reader writes:

I just started a new job on Wednesday. This is a holdover job until something better comes along, and is nothing more than that.

Unfortunately for me, I have a job where the majority of other workers are high school or younger college-aged students. As if that isn’t awkward enough, three of the shift managers are younger than me! Two are even seniors in high school. Being that I am several years beyond high school and out of college, this is very awkward for me.

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I have to take orders from people who are no older than 18. I know they don’t have as much work experience as me, simply because of age. The one girl was already complaining to me yesterday about how she has not gotten her raise yet and has more responsibility for less pay. I just cannot relate to that after looking for a full time job for two years with very little success.

I did apply to be a shift manager at my new employer (the ad said they were looking for regular staff and shift managers), but I wasn’t even considered for that position. But somehow a 17-year-old is more qualified than me to lead? It just seems unfair.

Like I said, this is a holdover job, because I do plan on leaving as soon as something full time or better paying comes along…I did forget to mention this is only a minimum wage job! But I don’t want to make my experience there totally miserable either. How can I accept this and get along with my much younger coworkers?

So you’re planning to leave as soon as something better comes along but you’re bitter that they didn’t consider you for a more responsible position anyway?  And you’re annoyed that you have to answer to people younger than you, even though you don’t seem to have any substantive complaints about their ability to do their jobs, only about their ages?

If there’s an immaturity issue here, it’s the idea that responsibilities should be awarded based on age or years of work experience, rather than on ability to do the job. You’re thinking about age too much, which isn’t the most, uh, grown-up mindset.

People have managers who are younger than them all the time. Throughout your career, you’re going to have managers who are older than you, younger than you, more experienced than you, less experienced than you, more educated than you, and less educated than you.  If you’re stuck on the idea that it’s only “fair” to report to a manager who is older and has more years of work experience than you, you’re basically setting yourself up to feel resentful … and believe me, your managers are going to be able to pick up on it.

Your manager’s age is irrelevant. What matters is whether your manager gives you clear expectations, a bar for performance that’s both high and reasonable, honest feedback, and the resources you need to do the job. There are 60-year-olds who never manage to do that, and there are 17-year-olds who do.

I suggest that you try to respect your managers and coworkers regardless of age, because doing so will be a good lesson in maturity for you.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. Caitlin*

    As usual, Alison hits the nail on the head! I can understand feeling awkward with such a diverse environment, but I’m guessing the deep-seated resentment isn’t helping matters. In my personal life I have friends 10 years younger and 10 years older than me, and I can tell you they all run the gamut in terms of maturity and competence regardless of age.

  2. Ron*

    It’s never bothered me. Unfortunately, it has bothered THEM. They probably wished they didn’t have to work with an old fart, and some of them have said so, which of course is illegal. But the discrimination laws are a joke since there’s no way they can be enforced. My only hope is that THEY go thru the same thing in 20 years.

  3. Richard*

    I find it bizarre that this person thinks it’s unfair that people who have been working there longer and have more experience in this particular company have management positions, and that they are coming in on the bottom rung.

    I’m assuming you’re now in a retail or food service job, coming in from another industry, judging by the description: There are probably going to be management staff who are a lot younger than you, because this is one of their first jobs, and regardless of age, some young people can actually handle managing such establishments. Also remember that in these industries, often managers are barely earning more than the people they manage, but with a considerable number of extra responsibilities. Unless you’re lacking management experience, you’re really not gaining much by going into a management position here, especially if this is more of a stopgap job for you, and not a career choice.

    Also consider this: There are people in the company who are willing to stick with the company, and actually want to advance in such a career; why should the company put the time into training and promoting you if you’re just planning on moving on as soon as a better job comes up anyway?

    Look for a job more suited to your skills, in the meantime, treat these younger managers like you would any other, because there’s certainly no issues with this situation, unless you start making issues, and if you’re willing to start causing issues in the workplace, you might end up having to look for another job anyway.

    1. class factotum*

      “treat these younger managers like you would any other”

      Be nice to them. They have parents and older siblings. Who have jobs. At a place you might like to work.

  4. MillenniMedia*

    You can’t have this both ways. Chances are they don’t want to spend the time and money training someone for a shift manager position if they’re pretty certain you feel no sense of commitment to this job. Maybe to you it’s a holdover position, but they are trying to run a profitable business. You’re quick to look down on that 18 year old, but you fail to consider the possibility that they offered her the responsibility because she has committed to staying for a reasonable amount of time.

    How can you accept this “injustice”? 1) Adjust your attitude. Your condescension is palpable, and I’m sure it’s worse in person. 2) Realize that this is not your career path and that you will eventually move on. 3.) Since you are apparently so much older and more experienced, use this opportunity to set an example or offer guidance. Just because they didn’t give you the manager job doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. 4) Give the “kids” some credit. I bet they don’t want to stay at a minimum wage job forever either. Maybe they’re saving for a new car, working their way through college, or helping their laid off parents pay the mortgage. You don’t know.

    1. Anonymous*

      “…use this opportunity to set an example or offer guidance.” Yes, but be careful with that. I recently hired (and fired) a temp who thought that by virtue of her age, she was entitled to treat me as she would her child. I faced everything from unsolicited advice about earrings to her informing me that I pronounce pecan incorrectly. My final straw was when, during a staff meeting I was leading, I stated that I went with a “cheaper option” for our document destruction service and she condescendingly said “oh, you mean LESS EXPENSIVE option. You young people love the word cheap!” I had a new temp in the next day.

  5. Talyssa*

    As you get older, many of your managers are going to be younger than you (unless you eventually become a senior manager yourself or unless you’re in a career where advancement is based solely on years – YUCK by the way).

    I think some of my coworkers just hit that a year or two ago, when we brought in a couple Directors in their mid late 30s and my coworkers had just turned 40. Its a little disconcerting on BOTH sides – the less-tactful director was like “woah, you’re FORTY!?”

    Its just bound to happen at some point -when you’re young or you work for a really stodgy company where promotion is based on years of experience rather than the ability to manage people well, then maybe your managers will always be older than you. But otherwise you’ll hit an age where it happens. More work experience doesn’t mean better manager.

  6. Anon in the UK*

    Um. I managed someone like this once, 24 years my senior and over 30 years older than my other staff.
    On one occasion, I sat him down and explained that firstly I had 12 years more experience in this particular career than he did, that secondly (unlike him) I was professionally certified, and that thirdly, if I heard, or received reports of, him referring to me or any of the other staff as ‘little girls’ again, there would be blood for breakfast.
    He stayed a further three years and behaved himself beautifully.

  7. Anonymous*

    This would also appear to be an excellent opportunity to practice “manager management” skills – basic things such as making suggestions which are unambiguous on the surface yet get more vague the closer the analysis, using the their system as a stick with which they can be beaten, and ultimately standing behind them until the dagger is completely in their back. If they’re really that wet-behind-the-ears, then adopting the right attitude could make the whole exercise a lot of fun.

      1. Anonymous*

        And she’d do that … why?

        For fun – and to make use of the spare intellectual capacity which the OP has left over after performing the tasks the position requires.

        1. Richard*

          What we have here is the common garden variety troll.

          Because no-one could honestly think that this is good advice.

          1. Anonymous*

            Isn’t enjoying time at work important? Furthermore, manipulation and dissembling are key skills for an office environment, so in any event taking the time to practice them is a good idea. Remember: those who don’t do politics get done in by politics.

        2. Aubrey*

          How do you know that the OP has all this intellectual capacity to spare? You seem to believe that intellectual capacity comes with age, but it definitely doesn’t. Ask a psychologist if you don’t believe me.

          I’m sensing some sour grapes…perhaps from someone who has younger people above him/her on the totem pole.

          1. Anonymous*

            Sounds like sour grapes to me. Any whiff of that sort of behavior in my workplace would result in immediate termination.

      1. Anonymous*

        If you like people hating you and your hours reduced.

        That’s simply part of the challenge: ensuring the trail doesn’t lead back to you.

        1. Aubrey*

          Again, anonymous, what you think are fun mindgames in the workplace are really not so difficult to detect. Have fun stewing in your cubicle and thinking up ‘crafty plans,’ though.

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m guessing our troll is unemployed or underemployed and very bitter about that. It’s probably best to ignore this person. Sad though since we usually get productive comments on this site.

  8. jean*

    Eventually it will happen to all of us – we’ll have a manager who is younger than us, less educated, less experienced, etc… BUT that individual was selected for the job. The best any of us can do is support the person and help him/her succeed. Learn what they value, share your values and soon you will find a common ground. And, I agree – in this article, this is not your career job, it sounds like it’s a job you won’t like no matter who your boss is – quit now.

  9. Cruella*

    It sounds as though you weren’t considered for the more responsible gig because you were already putting off the “short-timers” vibe.

    I once have a candidate literally tell me they “just needed something to help them get a foot in the door.” Why waste my time and resources training someone who admitted they would be moving on as soon as something better came along.

    You also state that you’ve been on the job hunt for two years. If you are like me, getting the bills at home paid is my main motivation. I have 4 children (2 in college) a mortgage and utilities. I’d shovel horse dung if it put food on my table and kept the roof over my head. Answering to someone younger than me would be the least of my worries.

    Good luck to you!

  10. Jennifer*

    In my late 20s, I’m currently a manager in a job where most people are in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. I was promoted because I can do the job better than most people here. Nonetheless, I feel uncomfortable doing things like offering constructive criticism to my older co-workers. The letter writer could do well to keep in mind that the discomfort may go both ways!

    1. James*

      Keep in mind, Jennifer, that some of those people in their 40’s and 50’s, like myself, may have spent a number of years in the organization covering your position on a temporary basis for less pay than the position pays, only to watch the full time, full pay opportunity go to someone else.
      In my 3 cases with my current organization, the someone else is generally underqualified enough not to ask embarrasing questions when the higher ups decide that problems should take care of themselves, to save anyone having to take any responsibility for results.
      There are two reasons people get promoted. Leaders surround themselves with people whose skills are intimidating, because if the leader is the strongest enitity in the organization, the organization can never grow beyond the leader’s skill set. If the leader surrounds herself with people whose skills dwarf her own, the organization will grow beyond the leader’s capabilities.
      Losers promote people who will stay quiet, and don’t rock the boat, because the loser is afraid of what people think of her. Promoting people less qualified than herself allows the loser to maintain control of her staff without having to boost her own self image.
      It’s not always about the disgruntled employee. This one’s leaving the loser to find or become a paid leader (really tired of volunteering my services on behalf of my co-workers, who constantly question why I am being passed over). When you are no longer uncomfortable expressing your opinion to “older” employees, you will have taken the first step in becoming a leader. Good luck to you.

  11. Anonymous*

    I hate dealing with people looking for the “holdover” job. All they do is waste my time, their time and the time and money for people who actually want the posted job. I have to jump through hoops to try and make sure the applicants are serious about this job, and not just looking for a part-time position to hold them over.

  12. Erica (You Should Only Know)*

    With this awesome attitude, I can’t imagine why employers aren’t snapping you up!

    Seriously – the kids are younger than you. This is also their holdover job, most likely. Until they graduate high school, get something else – whatever. It sucks that you are in this position, but instead of whining about it and being upset that someone who is 17 may have more experience in flipping burgers than you, just try to either keep your head down and get your work done, or have a good time with your younger co-workers.

  13. Hannah*

    As an older employee working at a “minimum wage” type job you can choose between two roles:
    1. Cool older employee who gets along with the younger employees and minimizes the age difference. These people have an advantage, because with all other things being equal, most people (OP included) perceive it as a logical choice to promote the older employee to manager.
    2. Creepy older person who has a terrible attitude. No one wonders why this person can’t find a better job or get a promotion.

    At least fake it and go for #1, because otherwise you will turn into #2. If this is truly just a temporary gig, having a bad attitude won’t make it any better. You have nothing to lose by acting pleasant and eager to do a good job. Honing your people skills will help you in your ongoing job search too.

  14. mouse*

    Pro tip: You will very rarely (read: almost never) get a shift leader job in retail or food service when you’re a new hire unless you have direct (and usually recent experience) in food service and retail, as well as management experience. You MIGHT get it if your experience is a little out of date. You MIGHT get it if you have the food/retail experience and the management experience but not both together. But both of those “mights” are not very likely in a good job market, let alone the current one.

    Thanks for reminding me of my number one complaint about waiting tables (three cheers for graveyard shift): for every customer that is a raging jerk (which is a LOT), there’s at least one co-worker who is a bigger jerk, as well as entitled and clueless (awesome combination, that one). Funny thing, the customers can be the worst in the world but it’s that co-worker who manages to ruin my night.

    1. Sibyl*

      Mouse, this insider tip is awesome. Your list of what it takes to get hired for a management position in food/retail (or any service industry, really) can give the OP and others concrete goals while soothing the sting of not being picked.

  15. BennettPlusTwo*

    I work in a Corporate environment where the people who report to me are are older by at least a decade (some are closer to my age – late 20’s). I truly believe that age really is only a number. You don’t know people or where they have been or what they have accomplished – so you don’t get to make a judgment call.

    I know personally I get along well with all of my staff members (going up the ladder and back down) but it is because I treat everyone equally. I joke and laugh with people who are, for all intensive purposes my “subordinates” but I won’t ever treat someone like they are gum under my shoe.

    Mutual respect and open communication are a few of the keys to any healthy working environment, and every GOOD manager knows that.

    Which is most likely why you’re not a manager.

  16. BennettPlusTwo*

    Also – and this is probably the best advice I can possibly give the OP and anyone else in this situation:

    Check that ego at the door. All of those pent up insecurity about your own age and where you are in your life are painfully apparent and are contributing to what you are trying to portray as an injustice against you. The problem you have is with your own life, not with theirs – so spend some time trying to sort out your own problems and get some humility.

  17. Anonymous*

    Congratulations on getting a new job, OP! It’s great that you found a job, albeit minimum wage, in this economy. It’s something better than nothing.

    However, at the same time, you don’t deserve that congratulations, and I think your fellow employees deserve an apology instead. Whether you realize it or not, you are in high gear age discriminating those hardworking teens. You are probably the only person who is having a major problem with this, and I hope you are not creating a problem at work because of your age insecurity. They’re experience in this field is more than yours so of course they are going to get the manager position. Has anyone complained about their work? their attitude towards other employees? You are right about one thing…it is UNFORTUNATE for you since you are creating an unnecessary problem involving some unexplained insecurity and immaturity.

    Furthermore, age is just a number. It doesn’t equate to experience or maturity. I have met people who are more immature than those my age or younger. And do you realize what’s not fair? You not giving the younger generation the benefit of the doubt. Like I’ve said, you owe these kids an apology and a better attitude. Trust me, they can sense your bitterness towards them even if you are courteous to them.

    AAM wrote a great response, but I had to just add that. This letter just irked me to no end.

  18. JC*

    I work with people who are a few years younger than me (or relatively the same age) and are working much higher above me on the job ladder. I don’t think about it one bit. They work hard, I work hard, and we all get paid at the end of the week. I’m more focused on my own job responsibilities and what I need to get done as an employee there. Also, I think it’s great there are young people out there getting their first real taste of what management is like and working hard to do a good job. Obviously they wouldn’t have been promoted if they didn’t know what they were doing. Kudos to them!

    The OP’s attitude is a bit “sour grapes” in my opinion. I am trying to be empathetic, but I think the OP needs to check it at the door and focus on other, more important, things. It seems to me that your employer senses your attitude and that’s another reason why you may be overlooked for the higher position. And I’m sure your co-workers notice it too.

    I know situations can be complicated and undesirable at times, but if you are planning to leave this job once something better comes around, then don’t sweat the small stuff – AKA this situation. You can’t control it. You can only control how you react to it.

  19. Charles*

    From one “old fart” to another – at least they hired you!

    As for myself – they wouldn’t even “take me on” to do volunteer work at my local library. Now that’s bad, isn’t it? They won’t even hire me for a volunteer job. And you’re complaining about being in a temp job that you don’t like?

    Yes, life is unfair – it really sucks to be interviewed by folks who are WAY younger than me and also have no clue as to what they are doing (the two are not always related). It sucks to be out of work for more than 2 years; living off money that I saved for retirement. It sucks to go to an interview where the HR manager or HR rep makes comments about my age. But, that is their ignorance; not mine.

    And, so, yea, it must really suck to work for someone younger who complains about her lack of a raise; but so what? Life can sometimes suck. But what you do with it is what counts.

    BTW, you want to feel old? Just wait until you go to a doctor who is not only younger than you but wasn’t even born when you graduated college. THEN you will know that you’re old my friend.

    1. Dude*

      Yeah, it’s like feeding time at the zoo. I’m done reading; you can only stare at a train wreck for so long…

  20. Anonymous J*

    Wow. You’re upset because your managers are younger than you are, yet you’re also complaining that you have been out of work? Wow.

    How about being happy to have A JOB while you are looking for THE JOB?

    AAM is right: Ability to manage has very little to do with age, if anything at all. Also, keep in mind that, just because of your past work experience, that is not an automatic guarantee that you will get a management position where you are now. Management positions require experience in THAT SPECIFIC POSITION.

    I have to wonder if you are going to be happy ANYWHERE? Sorry if that seems harsh, but I really think you should take time to think about where you want to be an concentrate very hard on getting there and less on who is giving you direction at work.

  21. Mike C.*

    It’s not your coworkers’ fault that the economy is crap and that you can’t find work elsewhere. That’s really what you’re angry about here, isn’t it? You need to find some more productive use of your angry and energy than simply taking it out on others.

    Also, being told to take on additional work and responsibility without a raise in pay is a perfectly good reason to complain.

    1. Charles*

      “being told to take on additional work and responsibility without a raise in pay is a perfectly good reason to complain.”

      But NOT complain to a subordinate. I think that may have been what the OP was trying to say here.

      I cannot think of any reason for a manager to discuss her salary with someone beneath her except to tell that person what salary range they might expect if applying for that job.

      But, otherwise, Mike C, I think you have nailed what the OP was really angry about – far too many people direct their angry over one issue to others who are not at fault.

  22. CK*

    I give those 17 and 18 year olds a lot of credit for being in the workforce. Seriously, there are many teenagers who feel completely entitled and live on mommy and daddy’s money, and never know what it’s like to work hard to earn a paycheque. Kudos to them for sticking it out and moving up in the ranks. If you think about it, your spot could’ve gone to an eager teenager who really wants their first job so that they can save for college/a car/an allowance – someone who would give it 110% and add value to the employer. The only thing that needs a change is your attitude.

  23. Dawn*

    I’ve managed people older than me for most of my career. It used to be very awkward having to give performance reviews to my older subordinates, so the awkwardness can go both ways. I finally realized that if I know what I’m doing, know what I’m talking about, and come across that way, people don’t notice my age. Nowadays, I regularly tell the CEO, EVP, and branch manager what to do.

  24. FrauTech*

    How about a little humility? I know workers that have had to go back to work either after a layoff or after retirement at some minimum wage shop. You know what the difference is? You might have the experience and/or education to qualify you for a “better job” some day. You probably had some amount of savings set aside since you’ve been unemployed for two years, even if that was you picking from your 401k.

    You’re working with a bunch of young people who probably don’t have the same opportunities, or they’d be in college. They’re starting a job that is probably going to be their career. They have to actually survive off that minimum wage without picking from savings and probably do not have the opportunity right now to even HAVE savings let along contribute towards retirement or anything. This is their career. Some of them will make it into management. They are allowed to complain they haven’t gotten a raise if they are doing good work there. You are allowed to complain about how tough it was being out of work for so long. But understand that this “stepping stone” for you is probably the first stair step for them. Time to recognize your privilege and suck it up accordingly.

  25. maddy*

    Hm.. age is just a number. If they are able to manage and does a great job then who cares! I’ve even seen 5 years old who act more mature and can command a team better than a 30 years old. Now, how sad is that?

  26. Pingback: Engineering the Age Gap | Engineer Blogs

  27. MistyMountainHop*

    I’m in my late twenties and was just promoted to a position where my first direct report is at least ten years my senior. Why am I in charge? Because even though he’s older than me, I have the knowledge necessary to teach him how to efficiently perform in his new position, and because of my contributions to my department before he arrived. Pretty consistent with the reason for a promotion to a supervisory position in general, I’d say. That’s as far as this comparison goes however because he’s never implied that on merit of his age alone he should be the one doing my job. I’ve also noticed in general and find that this post reinforces that age has very little to do with actual maturity.

    Probably just beating a dead horse at this point as I observe not many people are especially fond of this question, but maybe I just felt the need to comment because this question irks the hell out of me.

  28. Heather*

    I was the teenage manager in high school. I did have a few bouts of a “power trip”, but learned very quickly. I did my best to treat everyone the same, and knew that there were always going to be some people who didn’t respect me because of my age. It is hard, but as other have said, can be a great learner experience for the “older” people to teach the new managers.

  29. Anonymous*

    So I needed to read this because I’ve been having this problem lately, and seeing how this guy looks in print makes me see how stupid my thoughts about the subject have been. Thanks.

  30. Anonymous*

    I am a woman, late 20s, and currently in a situation where I’m the manager of several emotional divorced women older than my parents. We are in an office environment and I have been able to hold my ground so far by being very firm and professional. I believe the respect and trust is there as they’ve slowly shown me signs but there is one woman who probably gives me the most problems but is my best employee. She has an attitude and can get very negative, but for many months now I’ve been able to sit her down and deal with her negativity because she is diligent and does a good job, but over the last week or so, things started to change.

    She has improved since I’ve been here and apparently has had a history but lately, things have gotten tense and to a point where I can no longer be simply firm and professional. The example – she walked out on me in a middle of a conversation and slammed her door when there were about 20 staff members sitting outside my office.

    I can not accept this type of behavior and she’s never gotten this far. I’m having a light conversation tomorrow AM over breakfast in a conference room to address the situation but because of her volatility, hope the conversation fares well.

    Have any of you ever dealt with this type of situation?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t have a “light” conversation with her. What she did is serious, and you need to approach it as such. Search for “authority” in the search box here and you’ll find some stuff that should be helpful.

  31. Anonymous*

    As a young person, the youngest in my office, I find the OP’s comments extremley offputting. I’ve experienced a lot of patronizing behavior from my superiors while in retail, but certainly not anyone lower than me. In my current job I get the same respect from everyone and we have people of all ages and levels of experience. To me, the OP is likley disgruntled at the job search and knowing 18 year olds manage you probably is a blow to your self esteem. Older people in the job search complain of age discrimination but this post shows it go be directed at younger people as well. Your attitude sucks.

  32. Jeremiah*

    I am an 18 year old manager, I don’t have this problem with older employees yet, but I’m sure I will.

  33. pinkpinkpink*

    like others on here have said. I understand that you might feel a little awkward being bossed around by people younger than you, but i am pretty sure that those 17/18 year olds have earned their spot. I am 17 years old as of no and i began working at Aldo Shoes about a month before my 17th birthday . It was my very first job ever, and i had absolutely no job experience before other than voulenteer hours. Within 4 months of working i began really getting noticed by my boss and mangers and when i reached 5 months of working there my managers began teaching me how to run the store as a manager and let me do a closing shift all by my self while he did my job (closing shift includes activating store alarms, directing associates as to what to do , and completting all register bank deposits, i decided not to take the promotion at the time because of my school schedule but this past weekend the store manager of Sunglasses Hut heard that i was the best seller at my store (keep in mind that i am also the youngest) and THEY offered me a part time job with them. they offered to work with aldos schedule so that BOTH stores can have me .I also had to deny their offer because i have no time due to the amount of homework from m my AP Classes . and the fact that I was not old enough to work there (i had to be 18 )
    My next option with aldo is to be transfered to another aldo at a different local mall and become sales lead ,which is the positions right underneath management. I am EXTREMELY proud of what i have been able to accomplish for having it be my first job ever and for my age . I sell over $1k every day i work at Aldo and that goal is reached 90% of the time no mater how many hours i work . My own mangers make me step away from the sales floor just so that they can make their goals . It take hard work to be where im at now . so maybe if your attitude was more positive then opportunities will come to you , just gotta be patient sometime . and start EVERYDAY at your job with positive happy attitudes :)

  34. muammad ishaque*

    due to young and immaturity he would not be able to to shoulder heavy responsibilities of management.so my opinion is the age of less then 18 years are not accepteable for a manager.

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