I distinctly remember when I started to notice many of my colleagues were younger than me. It was around the same time I noticed doctors, police officers, attorneys and teachers suddenly seemed to have the faces of kids.
Today’s workforce is multi-generational. It is comprised of the Silent Generation (born 1925 to 1944), the Baby Boomers, (like me, born 1945 to 1964)—the second largest generation of approximately 78.2 million Americans, Gen X (born 1965 to 1984) and Gen Y (born 1985 to 2004)—also known as Millennials, who are the largest generation at 100 million. These days, it is not unlikely younger workers are supervising older workers and such dynamics can create cultural challenges when it comes to work ethic, task handling, technology and interpersonal relationships.
A 2010 CareerBuilder survey found 43 percent of workers ages 35 and older currently work for younger bosses, as do 53 percent of workers ages 45 and up, and 69 percent of workers who are 55 or older. That means not only are Baby Boomers being managed by Gen X or Gen Y, but sometimes the age gap can even be result in a Gen X-er reporting to a Millennial manager. Interestingly, the younger the worker, the more difficult it was for them to report to someone younger than themselves. Workers who were 25 to 34 said they found it difficult to take direction from a younger boss (16 percent), but only 5 percent of workers age 55 and up had problems with it.
So what’s the beef? The complaints lodged against younger bosses included:
• They act like they know more than me when they don’t
• They act like they’re entitled and didn’t earn their position
• They micromanage
• They play favorites with younger colleagues
• They don’t provide enough direction
Many of the younger new bosses have come out of new disciplines, learning new skills and new technologies beginning with their first job and not requiring them to abandon old processes or re-teach themselves new tricks like their more mature counterparts. Consequently, they have the knowledge, but have not put in the trench time when it comes to people skills, nor have they been given the training in areas like motivating or managing to be better at their jobs. Lisa Orrell, the Generations Relations Expert and author of Millennials into Leadership, offered up this tip for bridging the divide: “Millennials like to communicate, one-on-one, a lot. A survey revealed that over 60 percent of Millennials want to communicate with their managers at least once a day. So now that Millennials are becoming managers, they expect to communicate with their employees. This is certainly a management style that many older generations are not typically used to.”
Here are some other guidelines for narrowing the gap between you and your younger boss:
Treat each other like professionals – Don’t act like a parent or grandparent. Both sides should attempt to see the other’s point of view. Your boss is not your kid or your sibling.
Keep communicating – Younger bosses expect to do this via technology such as e-mail, texting or instant messaging. Learn these techniques and stay current with each other, whether it be digitally or face-to-face.
Be willing to learn new ways of doing things – And don’t negate fresh ideas. If you can foresee problems with a new process, inform, but don’t be a roadblock.
Update your skills – Get trained on new internal or external technology; become technically capable with computer applications, social networking platforms or other popular online tools as they grow in usage.
Support your manager publicly and privately – Don’t badmouth him/her at the water cooler. Let your boss know that you can be a soldier by both actions and words.
Sooner or later everyone is younger than we are in the workplace and the world. Billie Burke, the actress best known for her portrayal of Glenda the Good Witch in the film The Wizard of Oz wisely said: “Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese.”
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.