How to Deal with a Younger Boss

Diversity Management
Knowledge Center

Devayani Vyavaharkar
Student (University), India

How to Deal with a Younger Boss

🔥NEW For the past decennia, the number of organizations having a multigenerational workplace has been on the rise. These are workplaces where many employees of different age groups work together. Such working conditions offer many benefits, such as novel learning, coaching and mentoring opportunities, multiple perspectives, and opportunities to develop cross-age connections with colleagues. Research also pointed out positive effects of age diversity on company productivity and knowledge sharing. However, multigenerational workplaces also come with issues and challenges.

The generational gap between employees may lead to a too strong clash of ideas, strategies, decisions, and outlooks, thus hindering transparent communication. It is not easy for managers to deal with such challenges. One particular difficult issue may be when employees must report to a relatively younger boss. Such situation has become more common in organizations worldwide in order to retain top talent by promoting young, very capable individuals into leadership roles. Although this makes sense from a leadership development perspective, this might not always be taken sportingly by the older employees. Thoughts such as: "How can such a young employee be my boss?" or "I can't imagine reporting to someone who is my kid's age!" are bound to rise.

Here are a few ways in which older employees can deal with younger bosses effectively:
  1. HAVE A POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Simply because your boss is younger than you does not mean they will not be successful in their role. Have a positive approach towards your boss rather than making irrelevant assumptions. When such negative thoughts occur, think about the reason behind them. Is it because your perception of a boss is someone superior in age and experience? Or is it due to jealousy since you did not get that promotion? Reporting to someone who is half your age may result in some emotional turmoil. Rather than running away from these emotions, try talking to friends and colleagues who have gone through similar experiences. They may offer you some valuable advice and suggestions.
  2. TRY TO BECOME A COMPANION: To reduce awkwardness faced by yourself and your boss, aim to become your boss's companion by developing an effective employee-supervisor relationship. Remember that just as you have the task of dealing with a younger boss, your boss also has to learn to manage older employees. Your boss may not have the amount of experience which you have accumulated all these years. However, be willing to help them by providing information and suggestions without boasting about your achievements.
  3. DO NOT FALL FOR STEREOTYPES: You may come across several stereotypes linked with millennials, a.k.a. Gen Y (people born between ca. 1981 and 1996). These may include beliefs such as 'they are lazy and lack knowledge or experience'. Others may say that the 'millennials have come to revolutionize the workplace since the older employees have been doing everything wrong the whole time'. You might have come across a few younger employees who might be showing such characteristics. But make sure that you do not generalize such irrational beliefs across the entire cohort. Avoid paying attention to how young your boss is as compared to you. As long as your boss possesses good leadership qualities, provides guidance, and motivates you to achieve your full potential, age should not matter too much.
  4. BE SENSITIVE AND OPEN TO COMMUNICATION: Make sure you have open communication with your boss. It will be helpful to resolve any doubts and clarifications related to responsibilities or job expectations. While communicating information, make sure you do not appear as a know-it-all. At the same time, remember to show some sensitivity while dealing with a younger boss. Your boss might also need some time getting used to handling senior employees.
  5. BE RESPECTFUL: The amount of respect that you will show to your boss will be the same that will be showered upon you as well. Avoid treating your boss the way you would treat your son or daughter. Instead, ensure that you treat your boss fairly and maintain an effective employee-manager relationship. They probably would not have been in this position unless their superiors had found some special spark in them.
Hence, instead of complaining or feeling disappointed, older employees should embrace a situation as discussed gracefully. They may assist their new boss while getting familiar with their duties and responsibilities. They should try to stay flexible and open to suggestions. The younger boss may have been appointed to make certain changes in the way work is being done. This may help the workplace develop into a healthier and more conducive place for all employees to thrive.

⇒ Have you ever had similar experiences? Can you think of other ideas to deal with a younger boss?

Knight, R. (2015, October 23). "When your boss is younger than you". Harvard Business Review.
Conlan, C. (n.d.) "What to do when your boss is younger than you". Monster Career Advice.
Bradshaw, F. (2018, August 28). "The rise of younger bosses". Mind Tools Blog.

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