Is your boss younger than you?

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

May 05

Bosses younger than their employees are not liked by almost 30% of the workforce.


I don’t get why they don’t like reporting to someone younger than they are — didn’t we get past looking up to our parents a long time ago? Or, for baby boomers, not trusting anyone over the age of 30? Perhaps not.

Maybe you can think of a hundred different reasons why you don’t like working for a boss younger than you, but the fact is, if your boss is someone younger than you than you need to work with that person. Here’s how to stay focused.

1. Are your goals set up correctly?

If you think your age difference is somehow a communications difference, the best way to overcome that gap in expectations is to ensure your goals for your work are set up correctly. That the way to achieve the goal is agreed to by you and your manager.

If you agree on the goal, agree on how to reach the goal and have effective measurements in place to determine your progress, all those expectation issues go away. But it requires a good deal of work to ensure your goals are right and measured correctly. If you don’t do the work, it doesn’t matter if you manager is older or younger than you–you will have an expectation gap with your manager.

2. You have to know how stuff works

The obvious piece here is if there is a significant age gap between you and a younger manager, what is used for technology can be quite intimidating. But the truth is, if you are not up to speed on the big social networks of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you won’t be viewed as technologically capable by any manager.

Even if you aren’t up to speed on the social networks, it is critical that you understand how the systems work that you use for your job. This means you know how to use them, what inputs can significantly influence the outputs (so you can increase your productivity) and what the nuances are of the systems. You do this so you can add value to your team and manager by your expertise in handling the tools of your work.

Take a serious look at how well you know the technology of your work. I won’t generalize about age and knowing technology, but just ask yourself if you know your work systems better than anyone else on your team. If not, why not?

3. Focus on getting results, not whining about the process

I love processes. I love looking at them, analyzing them and figuring out ways to make the process work better for everyone. Not everyone is a process junkie like I am. That’s OK. If you are not involved in changing the process, then stop whining about the process and just get your work done.

If you have good insight as to how to improve the process (see number 2 above…), then make your recommendations to your manager so that your manager gets that you are engaged in the work and want to make it better. Then go back to your job and get to your results and achieve your goals.

Companies are slow to change their process to make them better. It’s inherently slow because changes in processes have unintended consequences when the process is ignored or unilaterally changed (see: safe drilling in deep wells off shore near Louisiana). You can whine, or get things done. If the process is so bad that it drives you crazy and the management team isn’t willing to change it, go look for another job because your management obviously doesn’t get it.

Managers, younger or older than you, want people who get things done. Be the one that gets things done.

4. Don’t suggest the old way. Figure out how to make the new way better.

We’ve all done this: an initiative is started and instead of embracing it and/or improving it, we compare it to the way it was done in 1925 when we were starting out on the job. This is a great way to get pegged as the person who never listens to change and doesn’t want to change. You know, the kind of people management lays off because change is the only constant in the workplace.

At some point, everyone is younger than we are in the workplace

The real issue in having a younger boss is this one: do you have a young attitude, willing to learn new skills and apply yourself in those skills to help the company? If the answer is yes, the age of your manager won’t matter.

If you don’t have that kind of attitude, the age of your manager still won’t matter. You’ll just be stuck in your rut and most likely complaining about how terrible your manager is at the same time. Good luck with that.