My new boss is 20 years younger than me!

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This statement is set to become even more widespread over the next five years than it is now. Millennials, the oldest of whom are now in their mid-thirties, already account for about 30% of the workforce. In increasing numbers this group is moving into middle and senior management roles and as those in older age profiles seek to delay retirement having a younger boss is going be a reality.

If you are older and you find yourself reporting begrudgingly to a younger manager, what should be your approach?

First and foremost come to grips with your own self, particularly if you are less than positive about the situation. Understand the foundations for your bias, be wary of stereotyping. Is the age gap your real concern, or could it be gender bias, or even that you believe someone this young cannot be anywhere near as experienced and effective as you?

Step back and consider what you were like in your mid-thirties, where had you travelled, what education had you completed, how many roles had you had? Also consider where else you encounter and accept someone younger in a responsible role. As an example, if you are learning to play the guitar, how old is your teacher.

From working with and coaching Millennials I find they have a global perspective, they are more confident.  I won’t say they are better educated; rather they have had a different education that serves the majority well in an increasingly ambiguous and uncertain world.

Here are a few other aspects to think about and consider when you find yourself reporting to a (much) younger manager:

  • Be positive, they were promoted into the role for a reason and there is a better than even chance it’s because they are good at what they do
  • Be aware of your non-verbal communication, particularly in meetings.   You know what I mean – rolling your eyes when they say something you don’t agree with
  • Be a partner not a parent. Find their strengths and find your strengths and see how you can work together. Avoid the parent trap “when I was your age” – need I say more?
  • Listen to what they are saying rather being dismissive – “I’ve heard it all before.” A better option to try is listening as if you hearing what they are saying for the first time because they may offer a different approach or insight
  • Be honest with yourself, are you short in some areas on skills and capabilities? If you are, work out how you are going to close the gap
  • Most of all be yourself. I don’t know what the latest term is but don’t try to be “hip “ or “cool” (I’m probably showing my age) you have the wisdom of your years so use it wisely

Developing respect for each other can add value to both you and your boss but that cannot occur if you start with a negative disposition. Most of all, remember you were thirty-something once – what were you like? Hmmm…..

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