Boss Younger than You? How to Cope

An older employee facing the prospect of working for a younger boss is an idea so steeped in imagined conflict that it’s become a subject of corporate folklore. So much so that even Hollywood took notice, you’ve probably seen the movies. And it happens beyond corporate America, like in the military where older enlisted men dealing with younger officers ordering them around is practically a cliche. You may not have faced this phenomenon yet, it’s probably just a matter of time, considering the fact that 69% of folks over 55 have younger bosses.

If having a younger boss is basically an inevitability, what do you do when it happens to you? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are several strategies to help you cope.

Assume the best

This is good advice when you face any of a number of difficult situations, but perhaps especially so here. It’s easy to assume that a younger boss will be a source of conflict for you, but that’s not a certainty at all. Try to cultivate a positive mindset about the situation. Assume your boss has the same goals you do, namely that you have a positive working relationship and do your best to make sure things run smoothly at work. It is often a coping mechanism to expect and plan for the worst, and it’s certainly a good idea to be prepared, but approach the situation with the belief that things will work out and they just might!

Avoid the urge to talk about your extensive experience

This is a tricky one. More than likely you’ve been in your field longer than your boss has. So it stands to reason you’ve had more experience with typical situations in your work environment than your younger boss. You know this and your boss probably knows it too. It’s important not to immediately offer your experience with a certain situation or event. If your boss is worth their salt, they’ll likely ask for your opinion or any insight you may have. Difficult as it may be, unless it’s an emergency, wait for your boss to ask for your experienced opinion rather than speaking up — especially in group settings.

If your boss doesn’t seem interested in your expertise, that doesn’t mean you should blindly allow them or the company to stumble into a problem. Try approaching them individually with your insights without lecturing. Be sure to keep the real goal in mind, which is to make things work better for the company, not to show off what you know.

Think of this as an opportunity to grow

While it may not always be true, there’s a chance your boss got the job because they have a serious set of skills that make them good for the position. Age isn’t always everything. They may have education or work experience that brings something new to the table. While you may still have things you could teach your boss, or at least knowledge they don’t have, ask yourself if there’s something you can learn from them as well.