Advice for Boomers Working for Younger Bosses


It wasn’t too long ago, different generations were separated at work by rank and status.  The older employees held executive positions, the middle-aged were in middle management, and the youngest worked on the front lines. But today, baby boomers still in the workplace often find themselves being supervised by someone young enough to be their grandchildren. As more boomers delay retirement for various reasons, older employees working for a younger boss can be a tough pill to swallow.

Kerry Hannon, award winning author and Great Jobs columnist for, offered the following tips for boomers who are working for a younger boss in the workplace.

Boomer:  What are some ways boomers can “manage their attitude” when it comes to working for a younger boss?

Hannon:  Watch out for age-centric comments. Avoid mentioning that something your boss is doing is similar to something your adult children do, or bringing up what you were doing when you were their age. This sounds obvious, but sometimes it slips out because you’re thinking it. And watch out for sharing too much about your personal life that dates you, such as you're about to become a grandparent. Also be careful about slipping into a parenting tone of voice.

Keep in mind 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.

Pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. Don't even joke about gray hairs or a creaky back. And you never want to remind folks how things were handled back in the day, even if you are being flip.

Be physically fit and look and dress with an eye toward a vibrant, youthful appearance. You might consider a mini-makeover. You don't necessarily need to dye your hair to get out the gray, or spring for a chemical peel for your face, or Botox, but by all means do, if it makes you feel more confident.

There are, however, things you can do to have a more youthful glow. If you aren’t physically fit, for instance, make that a priority and eat healthy. Consider a style makeover. Spruce up your wardrobe and hair to give it an updated fresh look. There are free personal shoppers available at many department stores to help. Or you can also ask friends, especially younger friends for advice.

You want to stay focused on the present and the future. While someone wants to know you have the chops to do the job based on the problems you have solved in the past, they are hiring you to solve their problem right now, so it's all about boots on the ground and moving forward.

Boomer:  How important is it for working baby boomers to stay on top of the technology world?

Hannon:  Keeping up with new technologies, adding fresh skills, and staying up to date on industry trends will make your age irrelevant in many workplaces.

Do everything you can to keep up with technology and changes in your field. If you’ve recently updated any software certifications, or you are proficient in social media, let your boss know, even if that's a side comment in your discussion. Toss it out there.

Boomer:  What approach should be taken to show your boss your job related assets and experience without stepping on any toes?

Hannon:  Market your age as a plus. Think brand management. You’re responsible for your own image. Workers 50+ tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don’t need as much handholding as those with less experience. A great benefit to being older is that you have a good deal of knowledge and leadership ability. And whether you realize it or not, you have a network. You have a lot more resources to draw on than people in their 20s and 30s. So pitch your age as a plus. You need to be able to articulate your value. Strut your stuff.

Refrain from throwing out names of powerful people you worked with two decades ago—that makes you seem ancient. And who really cares? If you look and sound over the hill, they may assume your job skills are dated as well.

Boomer:  To what extent should boomers socialize with their younger boss?

Hannon:  I am not a big fan of socializing with a boss, regardless of their age, unless it’s a business function. Stay professional. This is a working relationship and not a new best friend.

Connecting at casual events, say, a volunteer outing with other employees, however, can help you build your relationship outside of the office. If it's appropriate for your position, stay engaged on social networks such as LinkedIn industry groups, Google+ or Twitter by posting interesting articles. You could forward an article to your boss that you think is cutting edge with a note that you ran across it via one of your social media platforms.

Boomer:  In what ways can working boomers prevent age being an issue?

Hannon:  Looking vibrant, energetic and physically fit is essential. People do judge a book by its cover, and this instantly shows that you are up for the job and have the stamina necessary. See above thoughts for more on this one.

A younger boss will probably want to communicate with you via text message, instant messenger or emails rather than face-to-face chats or the phone. It's up to you to adjust.