True Tales: When Older Workers Have Younger Bosses

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CareerBuilder.com writer

For the first time in history, there are four different generations working side-by-side on the job. Each one has its own attitudes, perceptions and values, which can make it challenging for people from different generations to co-exist in the workplace.

When you're the youngest worker on the team, for example, older workers might not take you seriously. You could be viewed as a child who doesn't know as much, and who doesn't have enough experience or business acumen to succeed. If you're the oldest worker on the team, however, people might view you as old-fashioned and not "up with times," or they might take your input as you trying to push ideas on them.

"It's hard on the ego for baby boomers to have a younger boss," says Christine Hassler, a life coach, professional speaker and author. "Their parents taught them that seniority comes with age ... having to answer to a younger boss goes against the model they subscribed to. Not only are boomers often embarrassed and angry that they are answering to someone their child's age, they do not know how to relate to or connect with their boss and/or co-workers, which only makes them feel more separate."

Here, several workers of all ages, experiences and points of view, filled in the blank on what happens when your boss is younger than you:

When your boss is younger than you ...

  • ... "I roll my eyes a lot." ---- Deborrah C., 42
  • ... "Don't do anything sudden or they spook! They want to be in charge and they are uncomfortable with your seasoned look and attitude." -- Maria Soldani, 62, The Soldani Group,
  • ... "Don't be a know-it-all, even though you might know a lot. You don't need to treat people like they're stupid." -- Billie Sucher, career transition consultant, 50s
  • ... "And shorter too, it's OK to call him by his childhood nickname: Shorty." -- Judy N., 43
  • ... "You wonder if he just finished an article on micromanaging." -- Anonymous RN case manager, 63
  • ... "You realize how much of life's wisdom you really do have." -- Michelle H., 52
  • ... "You may actually have to teach them how to be a leader." -- Steve T., 55

    >> See Also: Jobs With an 'Age Advantage'
  • ... "Do exactly the same things you should always do: Make an effort to match your communication and work styles to his or hers, and help both of you succeed by constantly finding ways to be a courageous follower, a gentle mentor and a positive role model." -- Claire K., 55
  • ... "Quit making those obscure references to 'M*A*S*H' episodes." Mike B., 46
  • ... "Enjoy the ride and learn." -- Joy M., 67
  • ... "You realize the impact staying home with the kids for six years had on your career." -- Lilia Fallgatter, 47, author, speaker and consultant
  • ... "And responds with 'Yes, Ma'am' when you pop your head in and ask if he has a minute, don't check to see if he has his mother on speakerphone; he is talking to you!" -- Sydnie T., 53
  • ... "You're happy they're around to pick up things you drop. You're amazed that they might know more than you do. You're grateful that they weren't intimidated and hired you anyway." -- Phyllis M., 66
  • ... "You need to choose to give them just as much respect as you'd give to an older boss. When this occurs, you are giving your boss the best opportunity to show that same amount of respect back to you. If you're confident in whom you are a younger boss isn't a threat." -- Michael J., 36
  • ... "Continue to always make your boss look good without ever compromising your values or integrity." -- Peter Rosen, 61
  • ... "It's time to retire." -- Chelle C., 54
  • ..."You must remember that you were once young and stupid, too." -- Maureen M., 54
  • ... "Expect to have to explain all references to early 80s television." -- Serena E., 39
  • ... "Don't say, 'When I was your age,' or, 'Back when you were born, this is how we did things.'" -- Laura Lopez, 48, author

    If you're a baby boomer working in a young environment, here are five tips that will help you work effectively with a younger boss:

    1. Understand the other person's point of view

    If your boss is from another generation, you may have differing opinions on many things, says Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, a career management firm. Observe his or her behavior to better understand what influences their management style and how you can complement it.

    2. Keep an open mind

    Don't assume that because they are younger, they don't know what they are doing. We all have different skill sets. No one is good at everything, says Sandi Grimm, marketing director for YouthFriends, a nonprofit organization.

    3. Learn new things and take a different perspective

    You'll want to do some hanging out with the kids to enjoy what they enjoy. Otherwise, they'll just see you as a fuddy duddy and you'll be irritated by the boss and his new-fangled ideas, says Stephanie Elsy, an accountant for Pop Labs, a digital media agency.

    4. Listen!

    Call it the hubris of youth or just the natural outcome of the self-esteem curriculum, but younger workers are deeply committed to collaboration and want to be included on decisions and strategies, says Rolfe Carawan, founder and CEO of Carawan Global Communications and Consulting. If you want to bridge the gaps show them you're willing to invest, improve and understand.

    5. Be the employee your boss does not have to manage

    Bosses spend a lot of time managing younger employees who are just beginning to learn prioritization and time management, Hassler says. Be the employee that your boss does not have to manage by taking initiative. If you are an employee who your boss does not have to think about, he will begin to notice and appreciate your experience and wisdom.

    >>Next: Jobs With an 'Age Advantage'

    Copyright 2009 CareerBuilder.com.

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