It’s not the easiest thing in the world for a lot of people to take orders from someone younger than them. This is especially true in the workplace where working for a younger boss can be a humbling experience. According to an interactive Harris survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, nearly 4 in 10 U.S. workers have a younger boss. That number is continuing to grow as the Baby Boomers begin to retire and as Millenials vastly outnumber their older, Generation X counterparts.
Whether it’s one or a combination of inflated pride, ego, intelligence, feeling threatened or something else—working for a boss younger than you can present many challenges for both you and your superior.
The key to understanding and working with a manager younger than you is to accept and address the variables that the age difference creates amongst you. Only then can you and your boss live in harmony with one another. Think about and follow these tips to help you and your boss understand one another easier.
1. Accept that your younger boss is the correct person for the job
There’s a reason this person is in the position that they are in currently. They may not have the work or life experience you may have, but they clearly impressed the higher-ups with their results, ideas, management style, work ethic, etc. to be in their current position. With that said, just because they are younger than you, doesn’t mean you get to treat them any differently regarding the respect and work ethic you need to show to continue working where you’re at.
Even when your boss is younger than you, they still get decide who gets the special assignments, promotions and more. You are working against your best interests if you are actively fighting your boss just because they are younger than you.
With that said, we’ve all had bosses that we did not believe should be in the position they are for various reasons. This will be the job of leadership to determine if they are right for the job or not.
2. Confront the age difference head-on
Yes, it may be awkward at first, but just speaking to your boss on a human-level about your age difference can make all the difference in the world. By addressing the issue head-on, respectfully, it can help strengthen the relationship between the two of you. According to SHRM, you could say, “I know there’s a stereotype that older workers like myself don’t want to learn new technology, but I’m the opposite. I’m always looking to learn new skills.”
This showcases to your boss that you’re not set in your ways, and they can rely on you to progress with them as the department and organization keep moving forward.
3. Work out any communication requirements you may need from your younger boss
You’ll find today that face-to-face conversations with a boss younger than you is becoming more-and-more replaced by email, text or chat programs. However, that doesn’t mean all younger bosses operate that way either. It is up to you to read and adjust how you communicate with your superior.
Good bosses will work with you and your needs just as they expect the same from you. If you work best with face-to-face, relay that to your boss and then they should make the necessary adjustments to help keep the department a cohesive unit.
4. Act as their subordinate, not as their boss
This is a line that older workers need to straddle tightly when it comes to working with a younger, less experienced boss. Based on your experience, you may feel the need to take the reigns at times and act as an informal boss, to help out your younger superior. However, that can backfire quickly if you’re not careful about your approach.
According to Jennifer Brown, SHRM-SCP, Found & CEO of PeopleTactics, “You can talk about your experience, but you have to use language that won’t come off as degrading or condescending.” For example, avoid statements like this when speaking to your boss:
- “I’ve been doing this since before you were born.”
- “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
- “When I was your age..”
It would be best if you offered proven, historical information about what the best approach would be for certain aspects of the job. They then can decide from there if they want to continue to operate in that way, tweak it or completely revamp it.
5. Don’t assume
Just like you’re not lazy and unwilling to learn new things, you need to avoid the stereotypes and give your boss the benefit of the doubt. They are in the position they are in because they more than likely earned it. Assume this, and try your best to relate and work with your new younger boss. If it’s not the fit you were looking for, it’s no hard feelings.
Working for a younger boss doesn’t have to be as bad as it seems. Who knows, they may actually teach you some new things on the way!
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