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.
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.
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.