As more baby boomers delay retirement and work until older ages, they may find themselves working for a younger boss. A recent Harris Interactive and CareerBuilder survey of 5,231 full-time employees found that 69 percent of workers ages 55 and older currently have a younger manager. The generational differences of this dynamic can create challenges. Here's how to form a solid relationship and even impress a younger supervisor.
Acknowledge their expertise. Be open to the fresh ideas and new approaches that a younger manager may bring to the job. "One of the problems that many boomers experience is that in their perception, the younger boss does not want to listen to their experiences and take account of their expertise," says Linda Gravett, a psychologist and coauthor of Bridging the Generation Gap: How to Get Radio Babies, Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Gen-Yers to Work Together and Achieve More. "The younger person has their own education and expertise and they don't want to be parented by someone."
Use electronic communication. A younger manager might prefer to interact with you via instant messenger, text message, or E-mail rather than face to face or on the phone. "Talk about your preferred method of communicating," says Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. Make sure you log on to instant messenger every day and keep your cellphone, BlackBerry, or smart phone on to stay in the loop.
Don't expect too much face time. The number of hours you log at the office is generally less important to younger managers than the results you produce. "A boomer might say that work ethic means you are in the office half an hour before your start time and work through lunch, but a generation X or Y manager says that telecommuting allows you to miss the rush hour and get some more work done," says Gravett. "They are looking for results and productivity as opposed to face time in the office." Be prepared for webinars and teleconferences and fewer in-person meetings.
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Point out your results. Keep your boss up to date with your progress toward meeting goals. "Ask questions when you are not sure, deliver on time, and try to overachieve," says Haefner. Tally your accomplishments, and make your boss aware of them on a regular basis. Instead of chatting about your decades of experience, talk about expectations you have exceeded over the past month or six months.
Act your age. Avoid comparing a younger manager to your adult children or talking about what you were doing at their age. "The last thing the boss wants to hear is 'you remind me of my son,' " says Gravett. Conversely, you don't need to prove yourself hip to 30-somethings. "It is not appropriate to try to act younger than your age, dress younger, or try to disguise yourself as a younger individual in order to fit in," says Cam Marston, president of Generational Insight and author of Motivating the "What's in It for Me?" Workforce: Manage Across the Generational Divide and Increase Profits. "It comes across as silly."
Update your skills. When a manager introduces a new workflow system, take advantage of retraining opportunities. Think of it as a way to get paid while you learn new software programs and keep your skills up to date. Becoming proficient with the latest technology is key to staying employed in a difficult job market.
Don't compete. According to the CareerBuilder survey, some employees complain that their younger bosses act as if they know more than older workers when they don't (15 percent) or didn't earn their position (12 percent). But it's best not to openly compete with a younger supervisor or belittle him or her because of age. "Don't come across as being a know-it-all just because you have been around for a while," says Gravett. "Of course you know quite a bit, but that doesn't mean you know it all."