How to Work for Your Younger Boss

You’ve had your phone interview with a company’s hiring manager, and the conversation went well. She mentioned the name of the person who would be your boss, and you double check their LinkedIn profile. Uh-oh, you think, looking at the photo of someone who seems at least a decade younger than you, maybe two or three. Is this your prospective boss? Or their child?

Now what?! Panic sets in as you ask yourself, will this work? Or, as one of my candidates recently told me, “The job sounds great! But do you honestly think I can work for someone younger than me?”

The short answer: Yes.

As an executive recruiter, I see new workplace dynamics present themselves all the time, and with young, eager professionals rising quickly through the ranks of more multigenerational firms, age differences are bound to emerge. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses, both older and younger, and I have to say that the age gap has not been an issue for me. As Dave Barry says, “You’re only young once, but you can always be immature.”

A September 2016 study found that most workers at firms with younger managers reported more negative emotions, such as anger and fear, than those with older managers if their emotions about the age difference surface. In my experience, as an executive recruiter and an employee, I have learned that work compatibility depends mostly on shared values and professionalism. As long as your manager or supervisor is competent, respectful, and allows you to grow and learn, their age really shouldn’t matter. In fact, different perspectives should be an asset in the workplace.

That said, you can do some things to make your relationships with younger bosses run smoothly. Here are some tips:

1.Be respectful. Nothing earth-shattering here — respect is important. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and don’t assume that just because they are younger than you, they lack the necessary skills or expertise to get the job done. Be careful not to appear condescending or parent-like in your interactions, steering away from age-centric comments like, “When I was your age…” or “This is how we’ve done it since before you were born.” No one likes that, not even you!

2. Adapt. You don’t want to be viewed as an older person with a fixed mindset or a “dinosaur” unwilling to learn new skills or work with younger colleagues. Figure out how best to communicate with a younger boss (perhaps by text instead of phone) and be proactive (and cheerful) about learning new ways of working and coming up with innovative solutions. Remember, too, that younger managers have their own insecurities, and your eagerness will make it easier for them to turn to you.

3. Offer support. Your boss may have more experience managing or working in a particular industry, but think about how you can play to your strengths, given your specific background and skills. Perhaps they’d appreciate it if you volunteered to mentor other team members or assumed some kind of quiet leadership role that supported their work and vision. You don’t have to pretend you are their age; you actually might be the perfect person to help build a bridge between different generations in your workplace.

4.Communicate. That doesn’t mean complaining to them about your back aches or reading glasses (save those woes for your friends). Instead, let younger managers understand your goals and challenges, and be clear about the ways they can contribute to your success. Think about people you’ve helped over the years. Doesn’t it feel good? Giving your boss an opportunity to help you shine will help them shine, too, and it will go a long way towards creating goodwill in your relationship.

What other tips or personal experiences do you have? Leave them in the comments below!

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