In early 2009, when Forbes combined its online and magazine staffs, I found myself reporting to a younger boss for the first time in my 30-year career. It wasn’t easy. I knew my boss was smart and digitally savvy, but I chafed in the deputy role. I admit it: I felt both superior and a touch disdainful, just because of the age difference.
I credit both of us for weathering those rocky first months together. My boss had to put up with not only my grumpy moods but also my cluelessness about basic dot-com skills like search engine optimization, linking and effective web headlines. Her communication style, of frequent e-mails and instant messaging, was totally different from my familiar mode of dropping by and chatting face-to- face with a boss.
According to human resource and career consultants, older workers are reporting to younger bosses more and more these days. A 2014 survey by the jobs website CareerBuilder found that 38% of workers reported that they currently work for a younger boss.
Technological changes have a lot to do with the trend. In my field, the rise of online content and social media means that we dinosaurs need to figure out how to get along with younger, wiser superiors.
To that end, I interviewed two consultants who have carved out a specialty in this area, and a psychologist, Billie A. Pivnick, who teaches in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.
Robin Throckmorton, co-author of Bridging the Generation Gap: How to Get Radio Babies, Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers to Work Together and Achieve More, encourages older workers to take the initiative and have a conversation with their bosses about the bosses’ favored mode of communication. (One demerit for me: My boss asked me to set up an instant messaging account. I felt overwhelmed and never did.)
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