When Ruth Sovronsky, 63, took a new job as development director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, the fact that her boss was a decade younger didn’t faze her. She had been down this road before. In her previous position, her manager was two decades younger. How does she make it work?
“It’s a question of attitude,” Sovronsky says. “Age is irrelevant if you know how to be collaborative. As you get older, you let go of your need to prove to the world that you know it all and recognize that everyone has something to offer.”
This generational pas de deux plays a bigger role in the workplace today than ever before, as many people delay retirement. A big challenge for older workers is taking orders from someone who’s the age of their kids. Some older employees grumble that their younger supervisors act like they know more than they do. But by adopting a can-do attitude like Sovronsky, and by following a few rules of thumb, you may find that making it work is not as hard as you might think.
Park your attitude
Don’t be dubbed a fuddy-duddy. Listen to what your boss has to say, and respect his expertise. “Show your willingness to try new approaches,” says executive career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting, based in Washington, D.C. While you’re stewing that your manager doesn’t value your experience, she may be resenting that you’re acting like — duh — a parent. No one wants to work with someone who is dismissive of suggestions or assignments.
See also: 9 Ways to Liven Up Your LinkedIn Profile
Keep in mind that there’s a lot you can learn from working with a younger boss. Stay open to learning, and be receptive. Ask questions. Be curious. Push to keep learning. Your eagerness to embrace new ways of doing things will be appreciated. Cross-generational misinterpretations can surface in any relationship. The key is to recognize that “you’re building a relationship that allows each of you to be successful in the workplace,” says Michelle Hynes, a Portland, Oregon, career coach. Soak up the energy and enthusiasm a younger supervisor brings to the workplace.
Build relationships outside the office
Connecting at casual events — say, a volunteer outing with other employees, including your boss — can help you foster your relationship with your manager. If it’s appropriate for your position, stay engaged on social networks that your boss uses, such as LinkedIn industry groups, Google+ or Twitter, by posting interesting articles. Consider forwarding an article to your boss that you think is cutting edge, along with a note that you ran across it via one of your social media platforms.
Streamline your communication
Chances are, a younger manager will prefer to converse with you via text message, instant messenger or email, rather than face-to-face chats or the phone. Don’t leave voice mail if you want a prompt response. Meetings are more likely to be via teleconferences and webinars. Get comfortable with Web-based applications such as GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx, join.me, TeamViewer and Google+.
See also: Is teleworking right for you?
Skip the age-centric remarks
Avoid suggesting that something a younger manager does is similar to something your children are doing, or bringing up what you were doing when you were the boss’s age. And don’t chat about details that date you, such as the grandkids’ birthdays.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her newest book is Love Your Job: The New Rules of Career Happiness. She has also written Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills and What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.