When You’re the “Young” Boss: … and your direct reports are much older

In the last issue of SAN ANTONIO WOMAN, we looked at some of the challenges the older generations (baby boomers and above) have when they must report to younger bosses (Generations X and Y). Now we’ll look at the flip side of the coin — tips for the younger boss in dealing with her older generation direct reports. Let’s face it — the younger boss can be a bit nervous about having people work for her who have considerably more experience and who, quite naturally, may be a bit suspect of — or even feel threatened by — the newcomer. So first impressions are very important. As the young boss, you want to dress the part, meaning dressing one step above those who report to you. T-shirts, sandals, piercings, too much skin or weird hair colors send out a bad vibe to the older generations. It’s hard to gain the respect of one’s elders wearing jeans with holes in them and funky jewelry.

When you first present yourself to your new team, don’t wing it; have a plan. Would it be best to meet each person individually or better to have that first meeting with your entire team? What do you want to accomplish in your meeting? Having specific objectives — and being able to explain them clearly —is a must. And do a little research on each of your new direct reports so you’re familiar with their backgrounds and strengths, looking for opportunities to acknowledge them whenever possible. Stay away from slang used by people in their 20s and 30s; it has the effect of making those older than you feel old. Think about how you feel when they say something and then proclaim, “Oh, that was before your time!” Just as you don’t like being told that they have shoes older than you, they don’t like to be reminded that they are old enough to be — or even older than — your parents. One thing the older generations do have is experience, so take advantage of it. Before you criticize, find out why they have done things the way they have. Explain your concerns, and then invite them to brainstorm with you to come up with even better solutions.

It’s important not to make your older direct reports feel as if they are incapable of doing the same level of work as younger people (an incorrect assumption younger people often make about their elders). They will resent being treated as if they are less intelligent or less able to contribute, and your company’s productivity will suffer if any employee is allowed to work at a lower standard. If you think “old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” it will help to realize that health care has advanced to the point that 60 could be the new 40. Baby boomers want to learn those new tricks, and they still have brains that work. For instance, many older workers want to (and do) learn new technology; it’s just that they didn’t grow up with it, as did Generations X and Y — so, of course, it takes time and patience to learn something that just comes naturally to younger people. A key to communicating with the older generation is to realize that they are used to face-to-face contact. The younger generation is more used to communicating with technology, such as e-mail, voice mail, text messaging, etc. As a younger boss, it helps for you to respect this difference and allow for more formal, in-person meetings. Remember, each generation grew up with different world experiences. People in their 50s and 60s are at a different place in their lives than those in their 20s and 30s, so you’ll want to remember how your lifestyle may differ from theirs. You may decide to treat your team to a happy hour at an “in” place that your older direct reports find unpleasant because it’s just too loud. The real key for all the generations to get along well in the workplace is to strive to understand why each generation behaves as it does — and then to respect the differences.

Author: Judi Craig

Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC, is an executive coach in San Antonio. She is president of COACH SQUARED, Inc. (www.coachsquared. com) and an Atticus Senior Practice Advisor for attorneys.

more posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our