The challenges of a May-December workplace

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The standard workplace looks very different than it did a few generations ago. Technology alone has revolutionized the way most organizations function. Look beyond the contemporary furniture and laptops to see another difference: your boss. Gone is the image of your manager or boss as a curmudgeon with an ill-fitting short-sleeved, button-up, yellowing shirt with an askew tie. Today’s bosses look very different, and not just because they can wear jeans on casual Fridays.

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 43 percent of workers 35 and older currently work for someone younger than them. For workers 45 and older, the figure climbs to 53 percent. And for the 55 and up group, the number leaps to 69 percent. While you can still think of many complaints to lob at your boss, the old standbys of “he should’ve retired 10 years ago” or “she’s been in the industry so long she’s lost her edge” are passé. Today’s bosses are young and far from retirement.

When asked if reporting to a younger boss was difficult, young workers expressed the most trouble. Here is the breakdown of workers who find taking orders from a younger boss difficult:

  • 16 percent of workers 25-34
  • 13 percent of workers 35-44
  • 7 percent of workers 45-54
  • 5 percent of workers 55 and older

What’s the problem and what can you do about it?
Are you one of these workers whose boss has fewer candles on the cake? If so, these complaints might sound familiar to you.

  • “They act like they know more than me when they don’t”
  • “They act like they’re entitled and didn’t earn their position”
  •  “They play favorites with younger workers”

Experts over at PrimeCB, a site dedicated to career opportunities and guidance for mature workers, stress the importance of working together. We are talking about your career, after all, so ignoring your troubles won’t make life easier. Here are some of PrimeCB’s tips:

Understand others’ point of view: You and your boss are coming from different points of views. You don’t necessarily share experience, education or work history. Neither of you is wrong—just different. So try to be open to the other person’s approach.

Adapt your communication: Whether you’re interacting with your boss, co-worker or direct report, you should always be mindful of what communication style is most effective. Many (though not all) younger workers favor new technology to communicate, such as IM and e-mail. Some older workers (though, again, not all) prefer to talk face-to-face or at least pick up the phone. Both parties should work to make communication go as smoothly as possible.

Keep an open mind:Neither you nor your boss is inherently right (or wrong) because of your age and work history, or lack thereof. Approach each other as two professionals and base all judgments on performance. Making assumptions about your boss because he looks like a high schooler or she’s the same age as your daughter doesn’t do you any favors.

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