Is your new boss younger than your dining set? Or are you supervising someone who thinks the internet is a fad?

Share story

Is your new boss younger than your dining room set? Have you just been promoted to supervise someone who thinks the internet is a fad?

You would be forgiven for feeling some trepidation. Workplaces — indeed, society in general — have traditionally been organized around the idea of “graybeards” in charge of “young ‘uns” doing the grunt work.

All this is changing, however. In 2014 a CareerBuilder survey found that more than one in three American workers has a younger boss, and this number is growing. Many of us are going to have to figure out how to work with and for people of varying ages.

The good news is that the standards of good conduct, mutual respect and tolerance you use to get along in general also apply to that person-in-charge who reminds you of your granddad or your youngest child.

Your first priority should be to establish and maintain good communication. In general, the subordinate person should adopt the modes of communication preferred by the manager. This means that if your boss wants to use instant messaging, then you need to learn that. It’s really not much different from the old-school head honcho who insisted that all issues, no matter how complex, had to be boiled down to a single typewritten page.

Older workers reporting to younger bosses also need to curb any impulses to hover or offer unsolicited advice. Instead, be supportive, be a resource and always be willing to try new ways of doing things.

Younger bosses may find themselves (perhaps subconsciously) feeling threatened or intimidated. It can seem awkward to coach or give feedback to someone with decades more experience than you. So your first task may be to throw out your assumptions and stereotypes, and concentrate on treating the older members of your staff as individuals. Be clear about your expectations, offer additional training where it’s needed, and don’t be afraid to “be the boss.”

At the same time, recognize that the greater life and professional experience of your older workers are potential major assets to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be open-minded. Maybe the reason something “has always been done that way” is because it’s the best way.

The key for everyone is to focus on working toward a common goal.