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Young bosses should reach out to older workers

Thinly veiled contempt oozed from the caller's voice: "I've forgotten more than that missy knows." • The caller, whose voice indicated a person of seasoned-worker age, said he wanted to quit because a younger woman had been promoted to be his boss.

He may have expressed himself more openly than most would do, but he's not the only worker who finds it hard to accept younger managers.

It's not unusual to find workplace veterans who are hurt or angry at being passed over for what they thought was their due.

Others fear that being leapfrogged in the pecking order is a sign they're being put out to pasture.

Gary R. McClain, a psychologist and author who counsels clients on career transitions and self-defeating behavior, has written about the difficulty of accepting "kids your children's age" as your manager.

First, he says, remember that generational discomfort may work both ways. The new boss may be unsure about how to establish rapport with the experienced worker. Act the grown-up and reach out.

Second, don't assume that lack of age or a shorter length of experience means the young boss is unqualified or unprepared. Guard against talking down to him or her.

McClain says that the key to bridging the age gap is to treat each other as colleagues, not as layers in a hierarchy. Yes, bosses are in charge, but there can be a lot of give-and-take in sharing ideas. Listen to each other.

Older workers who dig in their heels and refuse to learn new ways will be left behind. No one, regardless of age, gets ahead by failing to keep up with change.

Young bosses need to guard against generational presumptions, too. Don't assume older workers can't or won't change until they prove it.

Surveys of older workers often show that they want new challenges and that they feel slighted compared to the opportunities given the rising company stars.

Keep communication lines open. And don't prejudge based on age.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at the Kansas City Star.

Young bosses should reach out to older workers 11/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:22pm]
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