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Working for a younger manager

Generation X, born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, has challenged the restraints imposed by their parents. Gen X values bold expressions of individuality, seeking new creative and moral ground, and is less tolerant of traditional values than older generations.

The confidence of Gen X threatens the concept of lifelong, “womb to tomb” employment. Seniority privileges have been deemphasized, and competence and added value are becoming the keys to advancement. In their hunger for self-sufficiency and success, younger people have started to encroach on the professional domain of older workers.
Now that the subsequent “Generation Y” has entered the workplace, and with technology fields dominated by younger workers, age gaps of 20 years between manager and direct report are not uncommon, moving the issue of working for a younger manager into the limelight.

What You Need to Know
How can I relate to a manager who has a totally different working style?
Disparate influences on individuals lead to different priorities and different styles. Try to disregard how your manager is doing things, and instead focus on what she achieves. If you get caught up in overanalyzing the situation, things will be very stressful for you.

How can I get respect from my very young and confident manager?
While your manager appears to be confident, he may be over-compensating because of your greater experience. Consider providing feedback on his conduct, and request that he respond differently to you. Ask what you can do to assist him, so that he knows you are on his side.

My manager is attempting to do something we have tried in the past that failed. Is it OK to offer advice?
Giving advice to a younger superior in the workplace can sometimes come off as patronizing. It must be done with care. In general, a “reverse coaching” technique may be effective—ask a series of open questions that will help your manager think through the intended action or approach. Encourage your manager to speculate on the consequences of her actions and on what the likely impact might be. By thinking the situation through in this manner, she may come to the same conclusion, without feeling patronized. Then brainstorm alternative ways forward.
Keep in mind that past failure does not guarantee that the approach or initiative will never succeed. Something may have changed that will enable the initiative to succeed this time.

My young manager is very talented, but is making some really big mistakes. What should I do?
There is a balance between letting someone build experience by learning from their mistakes and allowing them to crash and burn. Think about the consequences of your manager’s actions. If he could endanger his reputation and effectiveness, talk to him privately. Give positive feedback before airing your concerns and make it clear that your intentions are good.

What to Do

Understand the Context
The rise of Generation Y has resulted in a growing age gap between manager and direct report. In addition, the job market has gone through rapid-growth phases and the economy has changed. This has resulted in higher demand for talented people and a growing need for different skill sets. At the same time, older people are enjoying better health and longer lives—and often working longer careers. Thus, older workers are more likely to find themselves competing for jobs with their younger counterparts.
Although this trend increases the possibility of conflict, it also offers many opportunities for a rich exchange of knowledge and experience. If managed well, the generation divide and differences in style and experience can be overcome, resulting in productive working partnerships. The following sections suggest ideas to keep conflict at bay when working for a manager who is younger.

Be Receptive to New Ideas and Learning Opportunities
Try to engage with your younger manager using an open mind; develop a mindset that their approach may bring unexpected rewards and success. It is tempting to oppose the ideas and suggestions of a younger person, especially if you feel they are encroaching on territory in which you have had past success. However, be receptive to new or different ways of doing things; explore the ramifications from a positive standpoint rather than a negative one.

Although your cumulative skills and experience have brought you success, there is always room for more learning. It is a mistake to take the arrival of a younger manager as a signal to entrench. Finding oneself in a new situation is always an opportunity to learn. Indeed, parents often learn from their children and maintain that children keep them young and current. If it helps, view your manager in the same light and be open to his or her perspective on work—but avoid trying to parent him or her!
Keep in mind that younger people have grown up with technology and thus, tend to view the world differently than people who came to technology advances later in life. There is much to be learned from this technological literacy and comfort level.

Avoid Making Assumptions
It is very tempting to categorize younger people as brash and inexperienced. Instead, attempt to see things from their perspective. Although they may appear confident, working with people who have more experience can be very daunting for a young person. Try observing your young manager through the eyes of a recruiter; look for and appreciate the unique qualities that have put him or her in a senior position. Young people can be extremely talented. Because age, class, and cultural barriers have largely disappeared, young co-workers often have an engagingly honest and open communication style, enabling a free flow of ideas.

Reference :BNET Editorial courtesy of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica
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