“I do not feel that my years of experience are valued or respected by my boss or coworkers,” wrote an employee on an employee satisfaction survey that I recently administered for a client. Most of the employees of this organization are very young, with only a few older workers below the executive level. This comment surprised both me and my client, but I recognized it as a symptom of the generational shift change taking place in the United States. Joanne Kaufman, writing for the New York Times, reports on a 2014 Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, a job recruitment website, which found that 38 percent of American workers now have a younger boss. Many baby boomers are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, and as large cohorts of millennials and gen Xers—highly valued digitial natives—move into leadership positions, Kaufman notes that “the odds are increasing that older workers will be answering to managers young enough to be their children.” Here are some tips for how to deal with what can be a challenging but valuable relationship in the workplace across generations:
- Older workers need to recognize that younger bosses have valuable experience that is different than theirs because of technology and other experiences.
- Younger bosses need to value the experience and reliability that older workers bring.
- Older workers need to check their parental reflexes to offer advice if it has not been asked for.
- Older workers need to reign in their reflex to talk about the past in a way that can sound patronizing to younger bosses.
- Younger bosses need to appreciate both the work ethic and the absence of petty drama that most older workers bring to the workplace.