Dealing with a boss several years your junior can be discomforting. You can find yourself in this situation if perhaps you have been away from the workforce for a long time. You return to the office and are greeted by someone much younger than you, who you find out later is now your boss. You can also find yourself in this initially unsettling situation when a young one performs exceedingly well and rises to the top. It is normal to feel uncomfortable when you have to report to a younger colleague. It does not have to be unnerving forever though! Building a relationship with this new boss of yours can be done. You can even benefit from learning from someone youthful.
It is essential to remember that your boss is just like any other boss, so treat her that way. She has been promoted to this senior position because her skills may have met or exceeded expectations. She is qualified for the senior position. Instead of holding a grudge against management or your own boss, be open to the many new opportunities of working with someone who possesses such great talent. It’s not everyday that someone reports to a younger colleague, so see what learnings you can get from this experience. Don’t treat them as someone younger, such as calling them “Anak” or “Son”. Keep the relationship professional and act appropriately.
One opportunity of working for someone younger is you get encouraged to update your skills. Technology is one of the biggest barriers between generations. “I had to learn how to use Photoshop,” shares Frank, a 40-year-old art director who moved from a big advertising agency to a smaller shop. “Because the company I joined later was smaller, we had to take on more work. For me that meant including how to use the computer to compose my storyboards, which included Photoshop.” Frank got tips from his younger boss, who was very encouraging. Frank also went on YouTube to watch tutorials, as well as read up on various websites. “I had to keep up and still have to keep up so I do not become obsolete!
Enrolling in formal classes is another good way to catch up and develop your skills. Meg, a stay-at-home mother in her mid-40s, enrolled in a class that taught basic Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel. Before becoming a mother, she had a career in finance. Once her children had grown up and started schooling though, she found herself wanting to augment their family income but still work from home. Getting a job as a virtual assistant was an option recommended to her by friends, but she needed to update her computer skills. She enrolled in classes on her own to kick-start what would be a steep rise in her learning curve. She has no regrets. “I work for a 30-something based in the U.S., and it feels good to know that you’re needed,” she shares proudly. “I do everything from handling his events to monitoring orders for his website and many more. I did not know how to do any of these before!”
Working with a younger boss is also refreshing. You can pick up a tip or two from a younger boss’ new perspective on work. Some younger bosses possess a certain amount of enthusiasm and dynamism that is encouraging and motivating. Learn from the new point of view this younger person brings. Listen to his or her fresh ideas.
While you are busy learning from your young boss, do not undersell yourself. You have a set of skills too that you should be proud of and continue to develop. Monitor your accomplishments and align these with those of your boss. Note that these accomplishments should be those that resulted from moving forward. Set tasks and align these deliverables with your boss’ agenda. Next, deliver productively and on time. Make your boss aware of this progress. Keeping tabs on your project results is one way for you to focus on the opportunities for today and tomorrow, rather than holding on to your achievements of the past. Simply going “I did it this way before…” might make you sound selfish and defensive. What if you kicked off a relationship with your boss by being open and eager to learn? What if you tracked your progress for each task you agreed on together? Any boss, whether young or old, will appreciate a results-oriented and forward-looking colleague. Nobody likes a teammate who keeps referring to past achievements and solely using these as his benchmark for success. You may only be as good as your last project so get started on doing a stellar job today!
There are many new things you can learn from your younger boss. Keep an open mind and welcome the refreshing opportunities you can get from working with someone many years your junior. You may have been around longer, but that does not necessarily mean you know more.
Toni Tiu is a brand strategist and writer. She also writes about home and family on her blog, Wifelysteps.com.
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