It’s simply the great cycle of life at the office, the younger taking over the older: first the Baby Boomers giving way to Generation X, than Generation X giving way to Generation Y. And now, suddenly, here you are working for a boss young enough to be your son or daughter. It happens. And it’s happening more and more often—and the trend will continue for some time, too.
A 2010 survey by Career Builders showed that among the 5,000 workers canvassed, 43% of those surveyed 35 years old and above worked for a younger boss, 53% of those age 45 and older had a younger boss, and 69% of those age 55 and over had a younger boss.
If you’re in this situation—whether your career is in insurance, real estate or even in medical coding—and are apprehensive that the generation divide is going to affect your working relationship with your Gen Y boss, here are a few tips based on pointers to prevent the generational feathers from being ruffled:
Don’t be a parent. You may have the years and the experience (and maybe a few gray hairs), but that doesn’t mean you can parent your boss. A parenting approach to the relationship may appear fine at first (for instance, providing advice), but it can easily turn into unwelcome mentoring, which is wholly inappropriate and can make your boss feel inadequate. After all, a parent is for the most part the boss, not the subordinate.
Be in synch. Recognize that there are important differences between your generation and your young (or younger) boss’s, and it’s your responsibility to reconcile them. When it comes to performance, Gen X considers face time more valuable than the Baby Boomer generation does, which puts a premium on interactions. Let your boss know where you stand (being careful not to sound like your generation is better than his) and suggest ways to arrive at your common goals.
Be constructive about your insecurities. A particular task might require a specific skill (such as proficiency with PowerPoint) that you might not yet have, but which your young boss assumes everyone already has. Instead of fretting or complaining about it, ask for additional training—your boss will likely appreciate your initiative. In addition, if you have a skill that your company can benefit from, don’t hesitate to tell your boss—but diplomatically.
Tune in. Because of technology, the generations have each a favored style of communicating: the Baby Boomers, face to face or by phone; Gen X, by email; Gen Y, by text messages. You have to adapt your communication style to your boss’s, not the other way around.
Support your boss. It’s your job to support and respect your boss. Remember that his (or her) success is also your success. If he gets promoted, you’ll certainly benefit from that in one way or another. You might even be looking at a promotion yourself if you did your work well!