IT Employment

How to work for someone younger than you

If you've ever had to report to someone younger than yourself or manage an employee older than yourself, you have experienced a phenomenon that will become more commonplace. Here's why and some tips for dealing with it.

If you've ever had to report to someone younger than yourself or manage an employee older than yourself, you have experienced a phenomenon that will become more commonplace. Here's why and some tips for dealing with it.

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According to Barbara Poole, the founder of www.employaid.com, a leading online resource that helps people improve workplace relations, the chances of people working for someone younger than them is greater than ever before. She says, "As Baby Boomers postpone retirement because a) their inclination to stay viable, and b) because of financial necessity, the odds are quite good that one may have a boss who is younger."

In many cases, there is an initial discomfort when an older employee has to report to a younger, more inexperienced one. But that pertains to both sides of the equation -- younger people are not always comfortable having "authority" over older workers.

That discomfort can sometimes morph into something worse when the value systems of the two parties collide. According to Poole, "With different generations comes the clash of values, at least on the surface. If a younger employee does not manage in a way that is consistent, for example, a Boomer or X employee's value systems, there will be reduced productivity. Younger employees are far more mobile than older generations, and will move if situations do not change. This not only affects retention, but of course, productivity."

In my opinion, there is often resentment on the part of the older worker that he knows the ropes and doesn't need to be "pushed around by some upstart." It's best to try to overcome these types of resentments because an attitude like that never, ever causes those higher up to rethink their position. It may only reinforce the decision made to put the younger guy in the position of authority.

So what else can one do? Poole suggests that you should learn what motivates each generation. "All generations want to be successful. Savvy managers understand the motivational differences in the various generations at work."

In a white paper offered free on the employaid.com site ("Generations at Work"), some of the differences between the generations are summed up:

Ultimately baby boomers have worked hard to get where they are and offer their children, presumably the Yers as well as the younger Gen Xers, opportunities they themselves may not have had. Yet, many Yers seem to feel that what they've been left with is an abused and used world, while Xers have somehow been overlooked as they get squished between the other two generations. Raised on technology -- much of which was the brain child of baby boomers -- Gen Yers and even many of the Xers are accustomed to IMing, talking on the cell, and downloading critical information to their iPod, MP3 or laptop all at the same time.

For more, download the white paper here.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

13 comments
Osiyo53
Osiyo53

I think that there are parts of the article you quote which are a bunch of BS. At least in my experience. Gad, at least when it comes to people working within technically oriented fields. I'm 60 years old, so I'd guess I'd qualify as an older worker. Does someone really think I'm put off by a younger manager I might work for IMing, talking on a cell, and downloading files all at the same time? Egad, do yah think that just because I'm older I'm too stupid or mentally slow to understand modern technology and methods? To multi-task? Etc. ROFLMAO !!!! Now, I've given various managers I've worked for some grief and criticism for doing just exactly those things mentioned. But it had nothing to do with them using technology and methods I don't understand. I understand those things at least as well as they do. I've been working with computers and electronic communications and info management systems since before several of them were born. My nitpick with em most often comes about because of several things. Being friggin wired, in tune, and constantly in touch with whomever all the time isn't always a good thing. Let's take one fellow, for instance, whom I used to work for. And whom I used to enjoy working for because I liked him and thought he had a lot of good potential. (He went on to work for another firm, now.) He was one multi-tasking fool. LOL. Had all the latest technology, and used it constantly. And suffered from information overload, lack of attention to detail, probably suffered from lack of sleep and proper rest because he was constantly trying to stay on top of EVERYTHING. Couldn't remember SH*T, at least not the important stuff, because he was daily going thru such mounds of what were actually trivial things, in such numbers that no ordinary human could ever remember them all ... and dutifully responding to it all, or filing it neatly away in his electronic records and, when he thought it appropriate, making the necessary data entries to have his PDA remind him of this or appointment, task due time, and so forth. In short, he often couldn't see the trees because the durned forest was in the way. Oh, I used to give him some grief. For instance once he saw me walking by his office and called me in and asked me to update him about a particular issue as concerns one project. I just looked at him and asked whether or not he'd bothered to read my email, sent to him several days before, that answered his question. He glanced at me, looked pained, allowed as he seemed to have some memory of having glanced at it. But didn't remember the exact details. And now wasn't sure exactly which document it was on his hard drive. (He saved copies of EVERYTHING, even digitized recordings of phone calls) He'd saved copies of and downloaded so much stuff that while he knew he had a copy, and knew it was probably in one of two places (folders), it'd probably take a few minutes to find it. A few minutes he didn't have to spare, especially since I was right there in front of him and could spit out the answer. Chuckle, I just gave him one of those looks and asked him, "Brian, why do I bother trying to keep you up to date when you don't even stop, clear your mind, read my notes thoroughly while giving them your full attention, make a decision and act upon it?" He replied that he was TRYING, darn it, but it was too much for him to keep track of everything, did I have any idea how many emails, IMs, text messages, cell phone voice calls, and etc etc etc he got in a day? I just chuckled and told him that maybe he should stop trying to do that. Maybe he should stop trying to be so totally wired and plugged into everything instantly, all the time? Focus on the important stuff, give that the appropriate amount of time and attention and thought. Ignore the trivia, and unimportant. TELL people to reduce the amount of traffic directed at him. Etc, etc. Anyway, I answered his question, then told him to not be concerned with it. As I'd gotten tired of waiting for his response or action, so had handled the matter myself. Which I wasn't supposed to do, but what the heck? Sue me, or fire me, or kiss my a**. It was my job to get the project done, and if he wasn't gonna act in a timely fashion because he was overloaded with stuff, I'd just do stuff my way. He blinked several times, and mentioned I shouldn't have done that. Violated company rules. I shrugged and showed my lack of give-a-sh*t, and replied "Well, the problem got solved and the project stayed on schedule and we didn't have 5 employees sitting on their a**es because you'd not done what you're supposed to do, because you were trying to multi-task everything all at once and not paying attention to the important things." He allowed as it all seemed to have worked out and told me to go away. This sort of thing happened numerous times. It got to the point where when I'd email him or give him a voice call as concerns some action he was supposed to handle, that I'd simply make a note to self to call him back at some point later, and remind him and ask if he'd acted on the matter yet. I used my own form of PDA for this. Little black notebook that fits in a pocket. In which I write down the important stuff (to me). Not ALL the information about everything. Just short notes, reminders, about truly important stuff. I'm not fond of scrolling thru the endless list of text messages on my phone, and don't always want to take the time to drag out my laptop, boot it up, and so forth. Especially since it takes me about 2 seconds at most to look up the really important stuff in that paper notebook. And its batteries have yet to fail on me at some crucial moment. Plus I find I can jot a note, especially given my own form of shorthand that makes sense to me, or draw a picture (pictures are often worth a thousand words after all) faster than I can do the same on a PDA. Add, my eyes can pick out and find (scan) those paper pages and pick out the info I want faster than staring at those screen displays on electronic hand helds. I'm not against electronic data assistants. Far from it. My laptop, for instance, has many gigs of electronic files and records. I pretty much detest small screens such as those on PDAs, Blackberries, and so forth. Especially given that in my field of work one needs to have a LOT of technical manuals, project related documents, and so forth which are often quite large documents, with a lot of small details. And all the documents for any particular project or job many consist of hundreds of separate files. So when I do the prep work for a particular job or task to be done on a particular day, which I usually do early in the morning long before I actually go to work in the field, I'll sit and browse through the docs I need for the upcoming task(s), pick out the important details, and jot short notes about the stuff I'm unlikely to remember by memory alone, accurately. i.e. I jot a very short, abbreviated schematic of a particular wiring hookup that is different than normal or one done so seldom I haven't got it memorized. Jot down a parts list and part numbers for anything I might need. Write a list of names and phone numbers I'll need for the tasks to be done for that day. If those aren't already in my phone's memory, and I don't bother keeping EVERY name and number in that. It just clutters things up and makes finding the numbers I most frequently use that much harder to find. Maybe jot down some important IP's I'll need. Make a few notes about some configuration data or software settings I'll need to enter that day, if they're ones that I don't have committed to memory. Etc. Then I commence my work day. Prepped to go. I often have folks comment that they can't figure out how it is that I ALMOST always have instant answers for things that come up in a work day. Chuckle, like project meetings where someone asks a question, and around the conference table people are madly scanning through saved data on their hand helds or laptops, etc. And I just flip open the old, paper notebook (actually I usually already have it open in front of me) and produce the answer within a second or 2. That is, if I haven't already got the info memorized and ready in the brain. Just works for me. On the job its just easier and faster for me to pick out the MOST important details/data ahead of time, jot it down so its instantly at hand as needed. As versus staring at small screens and scrolling through endless numbers, of sometimes large documents. My point is that the Brian I was talking about, as totally wired and modern as he was, and the multi-tasking superman that he was. Kept overlooking or not remembering the IMPORTANT stuff. Simply missed it in the clutter of endless data. Or failed to stop and think, focus upon it, and act in a timely fashion. Too much trivia, and minutia, and details and data that didn't really matter were running through his mind and before his eyes. Too little DEEP THOUGHT about the important issues. Too little ability to pick out what WERE the important issues. I finally convinced him to change his ways. Okay, multi-task when doing routine admin stuff, or filing away important electronic documents, or sifting through the hundreds of emails he got in a day. But take time to turn off, or simply don't answer the darned cell phone. Shut down his email browser. Get the heck up and away from his desk, and get out and about among his projects and people. Focusing his attention up THEM, each in its/his turn. Look, listen, THINK. Focus on the important stuff. And learn how to recognize what WAS important and what wasn't. Take notes. Go back to the office, and DO NOT pay attention to anything else until he'd handled the important stuff one way or another. Don't multi-task during such times. Focus, take action on one thing at a time until that priority stuff was handled. THEN, if he wanted to burn up some brain cells, and didn't have anything more important to do, go back to his multi-tasking act. I suggested that instead of trying to do EVERYTHING ... in what was usually poor or mediocre fashion ... that maybe he'd be better off trying to accomplish fewer things ... really well. The fact is that long ago I figured out that a lot of things pop up in a day. And a heck of a lot of papers about this or that crossed my In-Basket in a day (this was back when I was a manager, in charge of 135 people divided into 7 different work groups). There simply wasn't any way that I was going to be able to handle every situation that popped up in a day, myself ... personally. At least not well. Oh, I tried, at first. Then realized I made a lot of mistakes, or poor decisions that might have worked but they didn't work well. Requiring the issue to be addressed again in the future. So I finally stopped trying to be everything, and do everything myself all the time. Would pick out the most important stuff that I felt I needed to personally handle. Passed off the rest to someone else who worked for me. "Hey, Don, handle this. Will yah? Whatever you decide, I'll back you up." Why not? Odds were that if I tried to handle it in hurried fashion, along with everything else I had to do, I'd do no better than he. And I kept my word, as long as he got it handled, I'd back him up as if it were my own decision. I'd then focus on the priority stuff which I believed deserved my personal attention. And take the time to try to produce the best results possible. Worked for me. Got me rated as within the top 3% among my peers (of which there were hundreds, it was a large organization), and later got me a promotion. The paper work crossing my desk? At least 80% was pure BS stuff. I noted that over time if I didn't even bother to respond to it, only a very few of the originators came back to me inquiring about the paper they'd sent. Most didn't even notice whether I'd responded or not. So I started a system where I'd do a quick scan of that day's papers. Pick out the stuff I thought to be truly important. Put that aside. Put the rest in a "Hold Indefinitely" basket. Of the stuff put aside, I sorted it into two piles. "Do Immediately" and "Do This Week or Next". Handled the Do Immediately stuff right away. Ignoring anything else until it was all handled. Then started on the less important basket, the "Do This Week or Next", as I had time. If somebody inquired urgently about something in that basket, it became a Do Immediately item. But otherwise, I just handled that stuff in my spare time. In between doing REAL WORK, such as actually managing people and the work they were doing. Like getting up from my desk and wandering about to see for myself what was happening, asking questions, answering questions and concerns, etc. As the "Do This Week or Next" basket filled. As it always did since there was never time to properly address everything. Stuff at the bottom got shifted over to the "Hold Indefinite" basket. After all, nobody had complained that I hadn't done something with their note, message, etc. Maybe wasn't actually important at all. As the Hold Indefinite basket, which was large, got full my clerk, under my instructions, removed anything over 30 days old and filed it in a separate filing cabinet I had for such things. He went through that filing cabinet from time to time, and anything in there over a year old, got tossed. It was just friggin amazing how many notes, messages, requests for action or information, and etc that crossed my desk that ended up being things which were so unimportant that no one ever noticed if I acted upon them or not. Or, if they noticed, the matter was so trivial it didn't matter to them enough for them to call me about it. Or they simply figured out their own solution to a problem that they'd been trying to get me to handle for em. In our modern electronic age, things really haven't changed. We're just substituting electrons for paper. I've been both the younger fellow who was the manager in charge of older workers. And the older fellow with a younger manager. Haven't personally had a problem with it either way as concerns age. Only problem has been whether or not the manager was competent in his job. Or at least willing to learn and trying to improve. I can work with a manager who's trying to learn and improve, even if he's not so good at the moment. The idiots who're incompetent, but who THINK they know more than anyone else, are the ones I have issues with. Regardless of age. Interesting thread. Although, personally, I've never before even given much thought to the issue as to whether or not somebody I worked for was younger or older than I am. Never was something of any importance to me. Always figured that my boss had his job to do, I had mine. Concerned myself with doing MY job.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

are not necessarily related. I don't see why age should much, if anything, to do with things in this regard. Either I respect and can work with/for my boss, or I don't and I won't.

tclguru
tclguru

Another content-free post from Toni Bowers...

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Age typically doesn't matter, what does matter is that the boss is a good manager and/or a good leader. The problem is that quite a few people are NOT managers and/or leaders.

globalangelo
globalangelo

This is a good one. Our organization is currently has a multi-generational workforce. It is very challenging for for all generations. Specially for yers and xers with very high levels of passion, energy and expectations from the boomers who is used to taking time and secrecy. Transparency, flexibility and communication I would say is key to a better work relationship for all generations.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

older than I. It doesn't bother me at all. Either they are good at it or they aren't, that's the only part that matters to me. I certainly don't resent them their authority. I don't want it, so why should I? I've been told to do something 'stupid' by as many older managers as I have younger ones, never noticed an age correlation at all. No one needs to be pushed around by anyone. If that's your style, resentment is a given, blaming it on age disparity is a cop out.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

Experienced (baby boomers)rely on historical events that is the foundation of the technical world today. Y'ers are driven by the typical "instant gratification" or making "the big splash" seeking acceptance with their older workers and upper management. I see the wheel invented on a daily basis.

JamesRL
JamesRL

But some of my staff may.... I'm younger than a few of my staff, but I think its the fact I've only been here 5 years and they have been here over 20 thats the real issue. They don't consider management experience at another organization relevent. James

Rastor9
Rastor9

In my area, many "officials" like to use the term "Digital Immigrant" and "Digital Native" to separate out the different age groups. People who grew up on paper memo's, meetings, telephone calls and face to face communications vs. the "electronic" communication crowds. If you don't know who you are talking to, and how they are familiar with doing business you might leave someone out of the "mix". That is why new leaders of any generation need to know who works for them, and the other way around. I grew up with technology BUT only after college did I become familiar enough with it to use IM, Email, Video Conferences etc. Which are you? And how do YOU make sure everyone stays in touch regardless of the "generation"?

rxgirl
rxgirl

I agree completely that it doesn't matter at all whether I am younger or older than my manager. My last two managers were younger than me and it didn't affect anything. What matters so much more than age is management/leadership skills.

cartunes
cartunes

Well said Tony. Same goes for race, gender, etc.

melissab
melissab

I appreciate my younger superiors and respect them. Nine out of ten have worked hard to become in a position of authority. It is their qualifications and talent that got them there. I would be petty and a small-minded person to resent that.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If it is their qualifications and talent . Any one who resents someone who's more succesful at somthing than they are is hiding the reason for why they are less successful from themselves. Whether that's network topology or sucking up makes no difference. Not good enough or didn't want it enough, that's it. Equally a younger manager believing someone older resents them simply because of their youth is going to be wrong more often than not.

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