Career Advice

How To Be A Young Boss

As increasing numbers of Baby Boomers delay retirement and remain in the workplace past traditional retirement age, more and more young workers will become their managers and bosses.

Boomers are staying in the workforce longer than past generations did for a number of reasons, says Phyllis Weiss Haserot, a consultant, coach, writer and speaker specializing in workplace inter-generational relations and president of Practice Development Counsel. Some need to remain working because for financial reasons, because their nest eggs have evaporated. Others simply want to continue contributing and remaining involved in the workplace culture. But even if Boomers are still at work, “they can’t be leaders forever,” Haserot says. Many of them will take a role with less supervision and responsibility, opening the door for Generation Xers and Millennials to be the boss.

But managing workers who are older and more experienced can be challenging. “I have noticed that it is very hard for people to take orders and let their personal egos go in order to accomplish goals,” says Brandon Sargent, who dropped out of college two years ago to start EcoScraps, LLC, a company that produces organic gardening soil, with two friends.

EcoScraps employs 20 people, many of whom are more highly educated than its founders. And for Sargent and his partners, the successful management of older workers “has a lot to do with attitude,” he says. “We have a 40-year-old working for us that is very comfortable with authority and knows his boundaries. [But another older worker] sometimes doesn’t take us seriously and feels like he knows best. It causes a lot of friction in our relationship and currently we are in the process of replacing him.”

If you’re managing people a generation or two older than yourself, here are a few tips for making it work, according to Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011):

  • Give the older employee time to adjust. Working for a younger boss “can be a difficult transition for some, especially if they feel they are more qualified than the person they are working for,” Matuson says. “It will take some time for you to establish yourself as a competent leader.”
  • Gather input from more experienced workers. “Regardless of age, people like to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution,” Matuson adds. “Seek the opinion of those who have been around the block and then where appropriate, incorporate their suggestions into your plans.”
  • Don’t make assumptions based on age. For instance, some young professionals assume that anyone old enough to be their parent doesn’t know their way around technology. “There are a lot of tech savvy Baby Boomers out there who could probably teach some young bosses a thing or two about technology,” Matuson says.