Dealing with a younger boss

January 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Senator Hillary Clinton isn't the only one who is suddenly faced with working for a boss much younger than herself. If you've recently rejoined the workforce you may find that you're working under a member of the rapidly increasing "Generation Y." So how do you survive? Lisa Orrell, author of "Millennials Incorporated," shares her advice.

Lisa's advice:
If you're back in the work force and your boss is much younger than you are how do you survive? If you're a boss with much younger employee how do you communicate?

The younger generation is full of optimism about the future and the workplace. According to a new survey called the Pepsi Optimism Project:

  • 77 percent of Millennials report having a strong sense of optimism about their careers.
  • 58 percent of Millennials gain optimism from recognition in the workplace, compared to 60 percent of Boomers.

The task for everyone, especially younger people in charge, is to find ways to spread that optimism in a positive, fruitful way.

In this tumultuous economy if your boss is a great deal younger than you what do you need to do to work at his or her speed and speak their lingo? And if you're a young boss with an older employee how can you best utilize their value?

If you are the older employee with the young boss, Senator Hillary Clinton, for instance, how do you work at his/her speed and talk their lingo?

- Constant Communication: Over 60% of Millennials surveyed (by Robert Half Int'l) said that wanted to hear from their managers at least once a day. This means that as THEY enter into management roles (as we are starting to see happen), they will typically be managers who want to communicate a lot with their employees from any generation. This increased communication can cut down on a lot of frustrations between both parties (boss/employee) and help each other better understand expectations and communication styles/preferences.

- Speaking the Same Lingo: As an older employee with a younger boss, don't feel like you have to change everything you do to accommodate the boss. There can be a "happy medium" found that works for both parties. At 57 years old, you do NOT need to start speaking like a 26 year old to be "effective" at work.

- Getting Up-to-Speed: As an older employee, request/suggest a "reverse" mentor program to your younger boss. This is where you (an older employee) are matched with a younger (Millennial) mentor to help you get up-to-speed on the latest technologies, social networks (e.g FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.), new systems your company may have installed, etc. If this is not something your boss can implement for you, then find your own "younger" mentor either at work or outside of work. "Reverse" mentor programs are gaining popularity in the workplace and are very effective.

If you are the young boss - Barack Obama, for instance, what's the best way for you to manage people who might have to do some "catching up"? As a younger manager who is managing older employees, many of the suggestions in Question #1 apply to them as well.

- Respect the Experience: The biggest mistake a younger boss can make is deem the older employee "old hat" just because they're not up on the latest technology. Learn from all their experience in other areas. Technology in business is JUST ONE aspect of being good at business. I know a young CEO who took over a company and he kept the 70-year old CFO on because he said he learned more from that CFO than anyone he'd ever met.

- Rewards & Recognition: After you have identified areas where your older employee(s) need to improve in, and YOU have helped provide solutions as their manager, make sure to implement a rewards & recognition program to reward each person for reaching the milestones you asked them to.

- Set-Up Training Workshops/Seminars/Webinars: As the boss, define what you see lacking in your (older) employees and create training. Just because your Boomer employee doesn't like to text, doesn't mean they're are worthless. Get them up-to-speed, and continue to focus on their other strengths.

About Lisa Orrell:
Lisa Orrell is the author of "Millennials Incorporated: The Big Business of Recruiting, Managing and Retaining the World's New Generation of Youn Professionals."

Generation Relations Expert, Lisa Orrell has always kept her finger on the pulse of the "next big trends" that affect business and society. Spotting the new generation relations trend several years ago, she began researching the impact of the Millennial (aka Gen Y) generation entering the workforce. Lisa is a highly sought after speaker for professional association events. Some of her recent speaking appearances include: Linkage's Women in Leadership Summit (with keynotes Jane Fonda & Jane Seymour); The Annual PBWC Conferences in SF & Sacramento (with keynotes Cokie Roberts & Madeleine Albright); and the Northern California HR Association Conference. Currently, Lisa spends her time consulting some of the country's most recognizable companies, including Paul Mitchell Corp., Cisco Systems, USC, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, on how to better connect with increasingly influential Millennial group. In her consulting, Lisa educated HR, Recruitment and Diversity executives, and Boomer & Gen X management teams, about how to effectively recruit, manage and retain Millennial talent, and on how to improve their overall generation relations.