How to get along with your much younger boss
July 1, 2017
If you haven’t seen the movie “The Intern,” starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, you should. It’s funny, and it’s a perfect example of the difference in how generations work – the pitfalls and the saving graces. Retired, recently widowed, and bored, he applies for an internship which would generally be filled by a 20-something tech-savvy kid. He’s hired, and goes to work for a much younger boss, played by Hathaway, and that’s when two business worlds collide. You’ll enjoy the movie, but if you’re working for a much younger boss in real life, you might not be laughing. Especially if “Skippy” is now doing the job you used to do, but all wrong.
Whether you’ve just returned to the workplace or you’ve been with your company for years and just had a new young boss put in place over you, you may be finding the change a little hard to swallow. Chances are, this new boss doesn’t do things the way you would. To name a few, they may:
• Prefer to communicate with you by email or text or phone, seldom face-to-face.
• Send you messages as thoughts occur to them, even in the middle of the night, rather than wait till office hours.
• Make decisions on the fly, preferring the jump–in-with–both-feet method to careful deliberation.
How great is the chance you’ll end up working for Skippy? Let’s face it. By sheer numbers, they have the advantage. A Harris Interactive poll in 2014 showed 38 percent of us worked for younger bosses. That’s more than one in three, and climbing. If you’re a person who worked long and hard to climb the ladder of authority, you might feel like this goes against the natural order of things, and you’re not alone. It’s common for those of us with decades of experience to look at the new CEO and ask, “what did he do to earn that job?” But this is reality. To us they are peers of our kids or grandkids, and to them, we’re practically the crypt-keepers.
Not too long ago, Dr. Phil did a segment on this very subject, based on the experience of one author. The author found himself working for a female boss who was 32 years younger than he was, and she wasn’t too thrilled about having “an old guy” there, especially one with a lot of years in the industry. If that sounds like your situation, what do you do?
Here are some tips adapted from Dr. Phil’s advice.
• What’s at the heart of the issue? What is it that really bothers you about the situation? Your ego might be bruised. But if you’ve ever been the boss in another job, you know it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be. For once, the buck doesn’t stop with you… kind of like the difference between renting a house and owning one. When the roof leaks in your rental house, you’re not the responsible person. At this stage in your life, do you really want to be the boss?
• Put yourself in the boss’s place. As the more mature person, keep in mind that respect is a two-way street. The boss will never admit it, but he or she may feel threatened by your experience, knowledge and people skills. Show some empathy and give your employer the respect due the position.
• Step up your physical fitness. Walk more, or get on your treadmill in the morning. It adds energy to your life and a spring in your step. Don’t go to work and complain about aches and pains.
• Show enthusiasm for your work by volunteering for a new assignment or by signing up for a workplace development program. If none are offered, consider checking free courses online, even if they don’t directly relate to your job. Hillsdale College online offers a free course on the U.S. Constitution. Who couldn’t use a refresher course on that? The point is, learn something new or tune-up your thinking.
• Don’t pretend there’s no problem. It could just be a miscommunication, so it may be worth opening the topic with your boss, even if he or she wants to limit the talk to email or texting or phone. Go with the flow.
• Look on the bright side. As mentioned earlier, enjoy the freedom of not being the person in charge for once.
• Network. It doesn’t have to be formal, but don’t limit your circle of acquaintances to those in your age group. An easy way to network is to check out LinkedIn. That way you get to know people who know the people you know or the people you want to know.
Working for Skippy may be a pain in your neck, but at least you can enjoy the fact that you’re probably a pain in his or hers too. Like it or not, we have to adjust to new times. And if the Skippys of the world are smart, they’ll learn from us all they can while we’re still here. But they may never admit it.