Six ways to deal with working for a younger manager

Recognise that you and your boss have different talents and capabilities

Your boss may feel uncomfortable and even intimidated by your level of experience

Your boss may feel uncomfortable and even intimidated by your level of experience

 

Generational differences in the workplace are often a challenge, but dealing with a younger boss is perhaps the most difficult. How do you put age and ego aside to work with and learn from your new manager? Here are some ways to deal with the new relationship.

1 Reflect “Don’t assume he’s going to be a bad boss just because he’s younger,” says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School. “Why manufacture problems before you have them?”

Think positively. And if you can’t help but ruminate on the situation, ask yourself: “What’s really bothering me? Is it that my boss got a promotion and I didn’t?”

2 Don’t buy into stereotypes The workplace brims with generational stereotypes: the narcissistic baby boomer who refuses to retire or the entitled millennial who seems surgically attached to his smartphone. According to Cappelli, there are no real character differences between the generations. Try your hardest to “take your age out of the equation”, says Jeanne C Meister, a founder of Future Workplace.

3 Show respect Remember: your boss may feel uncomfortable and even intimidated by your level of experience. Be sensitive to these feelings and show some humility. Recognise that you and your boss have different talents and capabilities that you each bring to the table, says Meister. “You may have deeper niche skills while your boss has a broader managerial skill set.”

4 Aim to be a partner Your goal is to “work with this individual as a peer,” says Meister, to partner him to make your team and organisation successful. “If you want your boss to consider you a partner,” Cappelli says, “understand what your boss’s problems are and pitch solutions.”

5 Provide information Your experience gives you credibility. “Use it to be helpful,” Cappelli says. The information you have to offer could be historical, such as advice on navigating the particulars of a long-time client contract, or relational, such as insight into how Bob in the sales department thinks.

6 Be yourself While it’s wise to avoid dwelling on your age in the workplace, your experience and life stage are integral to who you are. So you and your boss happen to be in different phases of life. Embrace it.

Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015

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