So, you just found out your new boss is significantly younger than you. A new boss usually means changes to the work environment, expectations, and different communication styles. But a significant age difference can make these changes even more pronounced. It can be an odd dynamic, especially if you weren’t expecting it. What can you do to make sure you and your (super young) boss get off to the best possible start?
1. Own your Reaction
It’s common these days to have multiple generations in the workplace. But when your boss is significantly younger than you, it can lead to negative emotions. A study by the Journal of Organizational Behavior found “the average age differences determine how frequently older subordinates and their coworkers experience negative emotions…These emotion frequency levels, in turn, relate to company performance.”
You may tempted to question why your company made the decision to hire or promote this younger person. What does it say about your experience and how the company values your contributions? These questions are normal, so before you draw conclusions, acknowledge your reaction to the news. It's ok to feel this way. After you experience your emotions, ask yourself why it’s bothering you. Is this a job you wanted? Are you afraid your boss doesn’t have the experience to lead well? If you are uncomfortable for one of these reasons, give your new boss some time. They will likely answer these questions. If you realize you're only upset because of your ego, take a minute to consider changing your feelings toward this change. You have the ability to make an impact on your own thoughts.
2. Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room
You’re probably not the only one feeling awkward about the situation. In fact, your boss may have similar feelings. If you feel the tension, talk about it. You can make a joke about the strange relationship, but address it so it doesn’t impact you and your team's ability to be successful. You can see this conversation as an opportunity to build strong communication with your new boss.
3. Set Expectations
Ask your boss how they work best. Do they respond to texts or emails first, or would they prefer a call? Are they a morning person, or do they prefer to stay late to finish a project? Setting expectations about work habits early in the relationship can alleviate potential miscommunication. It also helps to know how to reach your boss quickly if issues arise.
4. Share your Knowledge
Be confident in what you bring to the team. Your experience gives you insight into situations your boss may not have been exposed to yet. Share the knowledge you’ve gained in your years of working. This puts you in a position to be your boss's trusted resource. The more your boss understands your knowledge and abilities, the more opportunities you will have for your own growth.
5. Keep an Open Mind
Just because someone is younger doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. According to Harvard Business School Press' Geeks and Geezers, “The one key asset that our leaders share, whether young or old, is their adaptive capacity. The ability to process new experience and find their meaning and to integrate them in to one's life is the signature skill of leaders.”
Consider how your new boss was able to rise to this point in their career. What’s the key skill they have that could help you be more successful? It may be management skills, something technical, or how to navigate the corporate environment. Regardless of what positive quality of theirs you settle on, be sure to keep an open mind. You’ll learn more than you might've expected.
6. Build your Network
Use this new experience to build your network. Ask contacts if they've had a similar experience, and use their knowledge as additional support to navigate the relationship with your new boss. There’s a chance it won’t work out with a new boss, regardless of their age. Building strong communication in your network can help you find new opportunities with other companies if you need to move on.
In the end, a new boss – regardless of age – will change your work environment. The key to managing this change is open communication and building trust. Focus on what you want to accomplish and how you can work with your new team to get there together.