Surveys by Office Team Staffing report that 82% are comfortable reporting to a boss younger than us.
With four generations in the workforce today, odds are it is going to happen.
I think it is a wonderful thing. I got my first job as a Director of Human Resources when I was 30. Everyone was older than me. Now most people I meet are younger than me. It was bound to happen.
My older clients ask me about this all the time. Chances are they either are or will report to a boss who is younger than they are. They ask me how they should respond.
I look at the other person (much older than me when I became a boss and now much younger than me) as a person. It was as simple as that. I treat everyone like a person from the homeless person I pass on the street to the CEO of a major corporation. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like I do! I look them in the eyes, listen to what they say and respond as if whatever they say is the most important thing I’ve heard so far. That approach makes us equals.
Here are some tips to working around people who are a different age then you are:
- Be aware of the gap. It is ok to realize that the other person is a different age. It is not necessary to draw attention to it in a way that makes anyone feel uncomfortable but the age difference is there. Be open to the experience that the age gap presents.
- Don’t stereo type. Stereotypes and generalizations might have a tiny nugget based on fact but I have never found the entire stereotype fits any given individual. Treat people as individuals who have value and you will learn what is unique about the individual standing next to you.
- Be receptive to feedback in general. Whenever she is in town, my 30 year old daughter Marissa offers (often unsolicited) feedback about me. She edits my clothes, my jewelry, my makeup, my hair, even the way I talk. I use this feedback to understand how I am being perceived by someone younger. I am always aware that I was a boss at age 30. Is this how older colleagues felt? I am not sure but by being open and receptive to feedback even from young people I know I learn something. And learning keeps me young.
- Stay up to date so you have something to talk about with younger (and older) colleagues and bosses. Generation gaps become a problem when each generation stays in their own bubble. Get out of yourself and discover new ideas. I have a 73 year old friend who downloads Grammy award winning music every year for the last 35 years. She realizes that this keeps her in touch with today’s music and therefore today’s young people. It gives her something to talk about.
- Stay active. You need plenty of energy to keep up with younger colleagues and bosses. Three months ago I started a VERY intensive exercise and nutrition program in an effort to lose weight. An added benefit is the increase in my energy level. My skin and hair look better. I feel younger. It feels like my face is no longer melting. Some of that is probably my imagination or wishful thinking but I know that when we older folks are more physically active we bring more energy to everything we do. That energy keeps us relevant in the workplace.
I think this younger generation is awesome! I love every minute working with all my clients of all ages. Meet every experience and every person as a real human being and you will be relevant in the workplace regardless of your age.