When Your Boss Is Younger Than You

We hear a lot about demographics in the workplace and the challenges it creates.

One that causes particular stress is when an older worker must report to a much-younger boss.

Are you in this situation?

Rather than stressing about how this relationship is going to work, here are ways you can make it succeed:

Forget about the norms.

Most of us have grown up thinking that the person in charge—parents, teachers and coaches—should always be older. Reporting to someone younger goes against this traditional norm.

Many companies actively recruit young people to their organizations as they possess skills that are in demand. To retain these younger workers, companies promote them quickly into leadership roles. This means that, increasingly, you are going to see bosses who have limited experience.  

Show respect for your boss’ knowledge.

In many cases, it’s not so much an “age” thing as an “experience” thing. For example, we think nothing of taking skiing lessons from a 20-year old instructor, who has been skiing since they were a kid.

Before you discount a younger boss, look at their technical skills and subject matter expertise and how you can learn from them. Respect will go a long way.

Use your life experience constructively.

While your younger boss may have more technical skills than you, you likely have more experience dealing with people and difficult situations. Try to find a way you can help them deal with these situations without acting like their parent.

Don’t focus on how you can get your boss’ job.

If you spend all your time thinking that senior management will eventually recognize how smart you are and how inept your boss is, you will be sorry.

Regardless of age, you should never be aiming to replace your boss through less-than-desirable ways. Your best strategy should always be to work hard, show respect, and be productive.

Build a partnership with your boss.

Because of your age differences, you will not likely become close friends with your boss. In fact, you might even be excluded from certain social functions they have. (This may not be deliberate. It’s just that you may prefer to go home to your kids instead of heading out for beer.)

But you can still have a good working relationship with your boss by working with them as a peer. You can do this by understanding what your boss’s problems are and help them come up with solutions.

Push back against stereotypes.

We’ve all heard the stereotypes: boomers are not tech savvy, Gen X-ers are only focused on work-life balance, millennials are entitled and lazy, and so on.

Stereotyping is dangerous. Even though your boss may be younger, they may be no different from you in how they think and act.

One more thing.

Treat this relationship as you would any other business relationship. Try your best to make it work. If it’s not, talk it through with your HR department who may be able to offer a solution. You should also seek other people who have worked for a younger boss successfully and learn what they did to contribute to the relationship