Younger Bosses Managing Older Workers: Increasingly Common, And Rife With Conflict

bosses younger than employees
By Susan Ricker

The corner office may now belong to someone younger than you, according to a new CareerBuilder survey. Thirty-four percent of U.S. workers say they are older than their bosses, and 15 percent say they work for someone who is at least 10 years younger, noting a shift in the correlation between seniority and leadership.

"Age disparities in the office are perhaps more diverse now than they've ever been," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. "It's not uncommon to see 30-year-olds managing 50-year-olds or 65-year-olds mentoring 22-year-olds. While the tenets of successful management are consistent across generations, there are subtle differences in work habits and views that all workers must empathize with when working with or managing someone who's much different in age."The changing face of leadership has brought other changes to the workplace, most notably a difference in work styles, communication and changing jobs. Managers and workers ages 25 to 34 and managers and workers 55 and older were surveyed, and while there may be distinctions between these age groups in how they approach their work, most workers said it isn't difficult to work for a younger boss.

Different Approach to Work

According to the survey, younger workers (ages 25 to 34) are more likely to have shorter workdays in the office but tend to be more open to working from home, when compared to workers age 55-plus.

On a typical workday, a younger employee:
  • Works eight hours or less per day -- 64 percent compared to 58 percent of workers age 55-plus.
  • Arrives later than 8 a.m. and leaves later than 5 p.m.
  • Is more likely than workers age 55-plus to work after leaving the office -- 69 percent versus 62 percent, respectively.
  • Believes arriving on time doesn't matter as long as work gets done -- 29 percent versus 20 percent of older workers believing this.

Workers age 55-plus have a more direct approach to working on projects than their younger counterparts:
  • Sixty-six percent of workers age 55-plus prefer to skip the process and dive right into executing workplace projects, compared to 52 percent of workers ages 25 to 34.
  • Only 35 percent of workers age 55-plus write out a detailed game plan before acting, compared to 48 percent of workers ages 25 to 34.

More:How 20 Is The New 30 In Today's Workforce

Communication Preferences

Although technology tends to create a divide among older and younger generations, it's a mutually agreed-upon area in the workplace. When asked how workers most like to communicate while on the job, the survey found:
  • Sixty percent of workers age 55-plus prefer face-to-face communication, compared to 55 percent of workers ages 25 to 34.
  • When it comes to email/text, 35 percent of younger workers prefer this method, compared to 28 percent of older workers.

Talking on the phone is the least appealing option to both groups of workers, as only 12 percent of older workers and 10 percent of younger workers chose this as a preferable method of communication at work.

Time and Careers

Perhaps an indicator of why a growing number of bosses are younger than some of the employees they manage, the survey found that younger workers often view their career path through opportunistic eyes:
  • Workers age 55-plus tend to believe that you should stay in a job for at least three years -- 62 percent compared to just 53 percent of workers ages 25 to 34.
  • In contrast, the younger group of workers surveyed believe you should be promoted every two to three years if you're doing a good job -- 61 percent versus 43 percent of older workers.
  • Forty-seven percent of workers ages 25 to 34 believe you should stay in a job until you learn enough to move ahead, compared to 38 percent of workers age 55-plus.

The one area that older and younger workers completely see eye-to-eye on? Sixty percent of both groups prefer to eat alone during the lunch hour, as opposed to dining with their co-workers.

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