How To Work For A Boss Who Is Younger Than You

By Gerald Walsh ©

Many workplace changes made over the last decade have been welcomed by employees: flex time, telecommuting, healthy workplaces, variable benefits, casual dress, and others.

But one change continues to cause considerable stress. That’s the age diversity which now exists in the workplace, and, in particular, the challenges of when an older worker must report to a much-younger boss.

Are you in this situation? Have you returned to the workforce after taking some time off, or taken a lower-level job elsewhere to complete a career change, and find yourself working for a manger who is much younger than you?

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—our parents, teachers and coaches—is always older. Reporting to someone younger goes against this societal norm.

Many companies work hard to attract young people to their organizations as they possess the technology skills that are in high demand. In order to retain those individuals, these same companies quickly promote them into leadership roles.

This means that, increasingly, you are going to see bosses who have limited experience themselves.  

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, take a look at the technical skills and subject matter expertise they bring 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 life experience—particularly in dealing with people and difficult situations.

Don’t try to act like their parent. Instead find a way you can help them deal with difficult situations they may be facing for the first time in their lives.

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.

Don’t automatically accept stereotypes

We’ve all heard the stereotypes. Boomers are not tech savvy. Gen X-ers are totally focused on work-life balance. Millennials are entitled and lazy. But you should not dwell on those differences—you may be entirely wrong in your assumptions. Even though your boss may be younger, they may actually be no different from you in how they think and act.

What if things just aren’t working out?

You need to treat this relationship as you would any other business relationship. You will try your best to make it work but if it doesn’t, you have to make a change. Before walking out the door, though, talk it through with your human resources 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.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh