One of the latest challenges for 50-plus workers is figuring out how to work effectively and happily for a boss who is younger.
Many of us these days already do, or we will. As more boomers push back retirement dates, and working part time in retirement becomes a pillar of retirement plans, this generational swing dance is taking place in small and large businesses across the country.
A September 2012 survey by the jobs website CareerBuilder found that one-third of U.S. employees reported working for someone younger. Fifteen percent said their boss was at least 10 years younger.
While most workers said it wasn't difficult to work for a younger boss, differences in work styles and communication often cropped up. The truth is that even if your boss is razor sharp and has the chops to lead, it's tough not to chafe when taking orders from someone who's the same age as your kids.
Here are 10 ways to help you deal with the age difference.
1. Manage your attitude
Keep in mind that you were once that brash young boss or rising star, full of clever ideas and new ways of doing things. So listen carefully to what the boss has to say and respect the title and position. "Go out of your way to show your willingness to try new approaches," says Beverly Jones, an executive career coach with Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C.
According to the CareerBuilder survey, some employees complained that their younger bosses acted as if they knew more than older workers when they didn't. That may be true in some cases, but don't be so certain that you know more. You don't want to come across as a know-it-all. So quiet the condescending tone in your voice. How you treat someone, even subliminally, generally is reflected back at you.
Beware of developing a repetitive negative thought, like: "What does he know? He's got no experience," Jones says. "Reframe your thinking, and regularly repeat a positive reminder to yourself, like: 'He's the boss. I'll figure out what he wants and needs, and I'll give it to him.' "
Then, too, try to see it from your boss' perspective. While you're fretting that your expertise isn't valued, your supervisor, in fact, may be bristling that you're acting like a parent or mentor, and not giving the proper credit for his or her education and experience.
2. Talk about the elephant in the room
Younger bosses may wonder if you will have a tough time reporting to someone their age. They're concerned that you're set in your ways, not willing to try new approaches to doing things, not up to snuff with technology, and possibly you don't have the grit to do the job. Tell them you realize that they may have these concerns, but explain why they shouldn't worry. Better yet, show them.
"Get social," Jones says. "You may not feel like hanging out with younger coworkers, but do it anyway, at least sometimes. Connecting at casual events can help you build vital relationships and it will keep you in the information loop." If it's appropriate for your position, stay engaged on social networks such as LinkedIn industry groups, Google+ or Twitter by posting interesting articles. You could forward an article to your boss that you think is cutting edge with a note that you ran across it via one of your social media platforms.
3. Concentrate on what you have to offer
"I think it's important for the more experienced worker to try to focus on what he or she offers the employer rather than overly focusing on the age concern," says Miriam Salpeter, a job search consultant at Keppie Careers and author of a new free e-book: 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make and How to Avoid Them. "Consider your experience an asset and pay attention to how well you're prepared to do the job. For example, your maturity and experience helps you solve problems more quickly." Volunteer to mentor younger workers or be mentored by younger colleagues in areas where your boss may show some concern about your prowess.