Is Your Manager From a Different Generation?

Here’s a rarely touched upon communication barrier: generation gap between managers and employees.

You could be a Millennial (born from the 1980s to early 2000s) whose boss is a Baby Boomer (born in the mid 1940s to mid 1960s). You have tons of ideas you want to try out, you work with the latest technology, but you have a boss who prefers tried and tested formulas and systems that were in place since time immemorial.

Or it can be the complete opposite. You can be an oldie in the company, honed by years of experience, suddenly faced with a fresh grad hotshot. While you’re respectful of any person with a position, it’s hard to take commands from someone you perceive is still green. They may feel too aggressive, too impulsive, or too naïve. This is still not considering any resentment you might harbor for having a newbie take a promotion before you do.

The good news is: generation gap between you and management is a surmountable obstacle. Like any communication barrier, it begins with a readiness to understand differences and see the good in diversity.

Consider below Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)  that can help you bridge the years between you and your boss.

1. Appreciate that successful companies are those that profit from a multi-generational workforce.

While it seems at times you’re being forced to take sides, different values across generations actually balance each other out. Young people who have a heightened sense of urgency, for example, get things moving. Those with some years on them ensure that each step is carefully thought out. Similarly, Baby Boomers are great at building from scratch while Millennials excel at innovating what’s already there.

Remember: it’s not a competition. Think of generation gaps as no different from clashes between personalities or disciplines. The key is finding how to work together, not how to prove one’s better than the other.

2. Empathize; you’ve either been there or about to get there.

Dealing with a boss from a different generation requires a lot of appreciation for the quirks of human development.

If your boss is way older than you, remind yourself that you would someday be in his or her shoes, dealing with a subordinate who speaks a different language and uses technology you can’t tell from an abacus. Think of the grandparents (and parents as well) you’re fond of: they require a lot of patience — and from time to time, saving from embarrassment.

In the same vein, if your manager is way younger — excitable and annoyed with having to pull in work beyond office hours — remember you were once in their shoes. Think of the mentor who guided you, and see if you can function the same way. More so, appreciate that while they may not have the years to back up their theories, they do have one thing you don’t: immersion in the current culture. Take a quiet moment to observe how the present crop of managers does things, and you might be surprised at how your boss is actually acting within norm.

3. Focus on interests.

You may have different attitudes and different ways of doing things, but you both want the same thing: progress in the company’s bottom line. So whenever there seems to be clashes, discuss objectively the pros and cons of each suggestion. All decisions made must be about accomplishing work goals, not the age of the person who pitched the idea.

4. Create a manager-subordinate relationship that balances freedom with control.

At the end of the day it boils down to what kind of relationship you have with your boss.

Effective managers delegate without micromanaging: they specify what kind of output they want and rarely interfere with how it gets done. Strive for this kind of relationship with your boss. If you have the freedom to approach your task in however way you want, you may be able to avoid the skirmishes that come with generational mismatch.

But at the same time, respect your boss for being, well, the boss. There’s a reason leaders are given their position in the first place; likely they possess the competence or potential to do the job. Don’t knock off their management skills until you’ve given it a fair shake. For all you know, you might get surprised by how much you’ve learned.

5. Get to know your manager better.

Lastly, if you want to have a more productive and even enjoyable relationship with your boss, do what you can to understand him or her better. An attitude of wanting to understand can stop you from acting out on knee-jerk reactions that may adversely affect your career.

Start with understanding the differences among generations of workers, especially the characteristics of the generation your manager belongs to. The internet has plenty of resources for this end. But don’t get stuck with just generational traits; your boss is an individual, not a stereotype. Find the ways he or she doesn’t fall into the cookie-cutter mold of an age group.

If you can at least meet your boss halfway when it comes to attitudes and ways of working, the generational gap may not matter in the end.

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