By Kathleen Sullivan
As more people defer retirement or never retire completely, the traditional model of a younger employee / older boss is shifting. Almost 70% of people over age 55 can expect to have a younger boss at some point in their careers. There may be even more than one generation separating an employee and his manager. Seasoned employees will have to face whether their approach, values, and work habits are compatible with those of a younger boss and if not, make adjustments to make them compatible. If you are an older worker who has a younger boss, here are three strategies you can follow to build a realistic, productive, and mutually beneficial relationship: change perceptions; set expectations; facilitate communications.
Change perceptions: Perceptions, real and imagined, on the sides of both an older employee and a younger boss can make it difficult to build a good working relationship. An older employee may perceive that a younger boss has not earned his title and position, acts superior, and is immature. A younger boss may believe that an older employee has outdated skills, resents his authority, and will try to parent him. Rather than allow these perceptions to become reality, take the lead in forming how your younger manager perceives you. Look, speak, and act currently (but not foolishly). Let him know that you are eager to learn new methods and technologies. Keep him updated on your progress and results. Share your insights and experience. Above all, do not criticize, compete, or treat him like a child. You want to be seen as an energetic, cooperative, and valuable employee.
Set expectations: It is critical to set expectations early in the older employee / younger boss relationship so that you share the same assumptions and goals. If your younger boss does not schedule a meeting soon after he assumes his role, reach out and request a discussion. Use that meeting to learn about your younger boss’s overall goals, his management style, and expectations for his employees. Then, share your own goals for your position, how your expectations are aligned, and where your experience and skills can contribute to achieving your manager’s objectives. You both should arrive at the expectation that you will be a competent collaborator focused on building a mutually beneficial relationship.
Facilitate communications: Communications can make or break the dynamic between an older employee and a younger manager. Often, technology can be the source of a divide. Even a technically proficient older employee may not have the same approach to using technology to communicate as a younger boss. If your younger boss is using technology as his main means of communicating, you should make an effort to communicate electronically more frequently. If you are not knowledgeable about social media, take steps to learn and apply it when communicating with your boss. Also, a younger boss may use a more informal communication style. To promote better understanding and develop a rapport, adapt to his language and style, again without acting foolishly. Even if a younger boss relies on technology to communicate, request a face to face meeting with him periodically. If you are not co-located, use a video conference or Skype for the meeting. Having face time is a great opportunity to review your accomplishments, where you would like to improve, and how you can continue to make a contribution. You also can raise any issues that cannot be communicated effectively using technology and candidly discuss ways to resolve them. This face to face meeting also offers a chance to be more casual, share mutual interests, and build a more personal dimension into the relationship.
If you are an older worker who has a younger boss, take the lead in shaping the relationship. Leverage your maturity, experience, and skills to create the environment for an open, respectful, and productive relationship where age is not a factor.