10 Tips for Working for a Younger Boss

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By Kerry Hannon

Here's one thing I know (and the new AARP Policy Institute survey of older workers who faced unemployment in the past five years backs me up): If you're over 50 and job hunting, it's brutal out there.

There are plenty of explanations, but ageism is the overarching stumbling block. Among the worries some employers have about older applicants is that they'll resent reporting to a younger boss.

And, frankly, you might.

The secret to making this relationship work is mutual respect. Age is immaterial if you appreciate that even if your boss is decades younger than you, he or she likely earned that position due to impressive skills and talents.

In my new book, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, I offer the following 10 tips on working for a younger boss effectively and happily. I hope you find them helpful.1. Manage your attitude. Keep in mind that you were once that brash young boss or rising star, full of clever ideas and new ways of doing things. So listen carefully to what the boss has to say and respect the title and position.

"Go out of your way to show your willingness to try new approaches," says Beverly Jones, an executive career coach in Washington, D.C.

Also, quiet the condescending tone in your voice. How you treat someone, even subliminally, generally is reflected back at you. Says Jones: "Reframe your thinking, and regularly repeat a positive reminder to yourself, like 'He's the boss. I'll figure out what he wants and needs, and I'll give it to him.'"

2. Talk about the elephant in the room. Younger bosses may wonder if you'll have a tough time reporting to someone their age. They could be concerned that you're not willing to try new approaches, not up to snuff with technology and might lack the grit to do the job. Tell yours why he or she shouldn't worry. Better yet, show it. You could forward an article to your boss that you think is cutting edge with a note that you ran across it via one of your social media platforms.

3. Play to your strengths. "It's important for the more experienced worker to try to focus on what he or she offers the employer," says Miriam Salpeter, a job search consultant at Keppie Careers and author of a new free e-book, 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make and How to Avoid Them. "For example, your maturity and experience helps you solve problems more quickly." Offer to mentor younger workers.

4. Keep an upbeat attitude. "If you've ever managed other people, you know it can be hard work," says Michelle Hynes, a career coach in Portland, Ore. "Your supervisor will love you if you're one of the people who makes it easy - and even fun." Genuinely wanting a win-win situation for you and your boss will go a long way. Says Hines: "Ask yourself: How can I be a good partner?"

5. Get hip to texting. A younger manager will probably want to communicate with you via e-mail or, better yet, text message rather than through face-to-face chats or the phone. Don't resist.

6. Prepare for less face time. For many younger managers, time spent in the office is not as vital as the results you produce. So your well-honed work ethic of being an early bird at your desk might not impress. The new regime may look more favorably on teleworking, especially if you can get more work done by not cooling your heels in rush-hour commutes.

Get acquainted with Web-based applications like Cisco WebEx, Google+ Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Join.me and TeamViewer. If you haven't tried it at work, get comfortable by trying these platforms with someone outside the office.

7. Note your latest achievements. "Let go of the past," Jones says. "It's great to feel pride for accomplishments in past years, but know that you get no points for them in today's workplace. Your boss is focused on current challenges and wants to know regularly how you're helping to address today's problems and tomorrow's goals."

8. Steer away from age-centric comments. Avoid suggesting that something younger managers do is similar to something your adult children are doing or bringing up what you were doing when you were their age. And skip the chitchat about your personal life that dates you. For example, Salpeter says, "There's no need to bring up the fact that you're expecting your third grandchild."

9. Keep your skills current. If you've recently updated any software certifications or are proficient in social media, let your boss know. Ask to take advantage of retraining opportunities and if you can take an online course or weekend workshop that will pump up your performance.

Says Jones: "A young boss may assume that an older worker is resistant to change. Show it ain't so."

10. Don't act old. Pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. Do you persistently complain about your achy back or remind folks how things were handled back in the day? If so, you're the one making age an issue.

If you aren't physically fit, make that a priority and eat healthfully. When you're in shape and feel good about yourself, you have a certain vitality and oomph that people want to be around, regardless of your age. It subtly says, "I'm up for the job, bring it on."

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness by Kerry Hannon. Copyright (c) 2015 by Kerry Hannon. AARP is a registered trademark. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
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