What to do when your new boss is younger than you

In most industries, age is much like the college you went to — a considerable factor but not a deal breaker. Armed with a robust resume that speaks for itself, many employers are less concerned about the exact number of years you’ve been out of college and more persuaded by your experience and the fruits of your labors.

In fact, it’s a trend that continues to shift according executive coach and leadership development expert, Liz Bentley, especially since younger generations are usually more adaptable and can advance quickly, thanks to their advanced technological skill set.

“They are able to pivot easily and adjust to the changing work environment. Their lack of time in the workplace sometimes works to their benefit because they have not seen things fail, ‘remember a time when,’ or be stuck in a ‘this is how it’s done’ mindset,” Bentley says. “They are fresh and see challenges as exciting problem solving scenarios. They also have the stamina to work longer hours and accomplish a lot in shorter periods of time.”

That being said, when you’re eying a promotion and a younger associate is given the gig over you, it can be tough to take. Or, when an outside professional is recruited for the management opportunity you thought you were a shoo-in for, you might struggle to be respectful toward your new boss.

Here, a guide to how to keep your cool, manage your expectations and excel in your position when your superior is a few — or many! — years shy of your birth year:

Recognize they were hired for a reason

The hard truth is that executives never have to share their reasoning for hiring one applicant over another. And while you might not always fully comprehend their choices, if you admire their intelligence and expertise, industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert, Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says to remind yourself they hired based on who they thought would perform at the best in the role. “Even though you have a lot of tenure and related experience, the executives within your organization made this hiring choice. What might you learn from your boss that might help you to better complete your job or interact with customers?,” she challenges.

Let it go — fast

Excuse our direct approach, but first and foremost, you have to get over it. Though you might complain to your trusted confidants outside of the office over happy hour drinks, any sort of complaining, gossiping, or dramatic reactions at work will reflect poorly on your character, according to Bentley. “You need to treat them like any other boss. They are the ticket to your future in the organization and you need to work with them and make them happy,” she says. This might mean biting your tongue (or gnawing on the inside of your cheek) for a few months until you acquainted, but it’s worth the snacking to defend your reputation.

Be respectful to earn respect

It’s not enough to act mature, according to former Navy SEAL, author and entrepreneur, Brent Gleeson. Much like the dynamics of the military, to be respected, you must bestow respect upwards and downwards on the corporate ladder. The more effort you put into not only acknowledging their presence, but actively working to brainstorm, welcome, and rub elbows with your new younger manager, the more they will value you as their employee. “As the older subordinate, you must always show respect to your boss. Respect and sincerity always go a long way. Especially, if you may need a letter of recommendation someday,” Glesson notes.

Seek common ground

One way to build repertoire and a harmonious working environment is to eagerly ask questions about your new manager. Even if you’re struggling to accept that they are too young to know any of the music you jammed out to in college, chances are high you at least share a similar interest or hobby. As Hakim says, a manager with a fresh take can also teach you valuable skills to advance your own resume. As you put yourself out there and get to know and understand your boss, your rapport will improve and so will your office environment. Who knows, you might even forget their age once you grow to like them!

Demonstrate your super skills

Though you’re minding your manners and swallowing your ego (you got this!), Bentley says you shouldn’t hide your own successes. Since the average age of retirement continues to increase, more-seasoned generations are working further into their golden years, offering a much-needed balance to the workforce. “We need all types in the workforce for diversity,” Bentley explains. “Older generations bring a maturity that helps with people issues, emotional intelligence and calm. They provide much needed wisdom.”

Hakim encourages further developing your backbone by — accurately and professionally — stating your opinions. “Don’t hide what you know. Just because you are uncomfortable that this person is your boss, don’t just accept every idea or instruction. Gracefully interject your opinions when you feel that your experience and tenure might help to move the team forward,” she explains. “Remember that this boss will likely impact your next lateral move or future raise.”