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True Tales: When Older Workers Have Younger Bosses

By Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer

young_bossesFor the first time in history, there are four different generations working side-by-side on the job. Each one has its own attitudes, perceptions and values, which can make it challenging for people from different generations to co-exist in the workplace.

When you’re the youngest worker on the team, for example, older workers might not take you seriously. You could be viewed as a child who doesn’t know as much, and who doesn’t have enough experience or business acumen to succeed. If you’re the oldest worker on the team, however, people might view you as old-fashioned and not “up with times,” or they might take your input as you trying to push ideas on them.

“It’s hard on the ego for baby boomers to have a younger boss,” says Christine Hassler, a life coach, professional speaker and author. “Their parents taught them that seniority comes with age … having to answer to a younger boss goes against the model they subscribed to. Not only are boomers often embarrassed and angry that they are answering to someone their child’s age, they do not know how to relate to or connect with their boss and/or co-workers, which only makes them feel more separate.”

Here, several workers of all ages, experiences and points of view filled in the blank on what happens when your boss is younger than you:

“When your boss is younger than you … I roll my eyes a lot.” — Deborrah C., 42

“Don’t do anything sudden or they spook! They want to be in charge and they are uncomfortable with your seasoned look and attitude.” — Maria Soldani, 62, The Soldani Group

“Don’t be a know-it-all, even though you might know a lot. You don’t need to treat people like they’re stupid.” — Billie Sucher, career transition consultant, 50s

“And shorter too, it’s OK to call him by his childhood nickname: Shorty.” — Judy N., 43

“You wonder if he just finished an article on micromanaging.” — Anonymous RN case manager, 63

“You realize how much of life’s wisdom you really do have.” — Michelle H., 52

“You may actually have to teach them how to be a leader.” — Steve T., 55

“Do exactly the same things you should always do: Make an effort to match your communication and work styles to his or hers, and help both of you succeed by constantly finding ways to be a courageous follower, a gentle mentor and a positive role model.” — Claire K., 55

“Quit making those obscure references to ‘M*A*S*H’ episodes.” — Mike B., 46

“Enjoy the ride and learn.” — Joy M., 67

“You realize the impact staying home with the kids for six years had on your career.” — Lilia Fallgatter, 47, author, speaker and consultant

“And responds with ‘Yes, Ma’am’ when you pop your head in and ask if he has a minute, don’t check to see if he has his mother on speakerphone; he is talking to you!” — Sydnie T., 53

“You’re happy they’re around to pick up things you drop. You’re amazed that they might know more than you do. You’re grateful that they weren’t intimidated and hired you anyway.” — Phyllis M., 66

“You need to choose to give them just as much respect as you’d give to an older boss. When this occurs, you are giving your boss the best opportunity to show that same amount of respect back to you. If you’re confident in who you are a younger boss isn’t a threat.” — Michael J., 36

“Continue to always make your boss look good without ever compromising your values or integrity.” — Peter Rosen

“It’s time to retire.” — Chelle C., 54

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