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What To Do When Your Boss Is Younger Than You

When your boss is half your age, things can get awkward at work. Here’s how to keep the relationship respectful.

What To Do When Your Boss Is Younger Than You
[Photo: bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock]

At first, when you find out that your new boss is younger than you, it can throw you off of your game a little bit. Initially, it can feel unnatural in a way, like when your younger sibling gets married and has a child before you.

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In both situations, you realize that the circumstance has nothing to do with your lack of effort or will to achieve what you want in your work or personal life. It’s just the way things unfold sometimes. And this may be a blessing in disguise. Here’s how best to deal with the hand you’re dealt from an expert who once navigated this situation successfully, plus tips gathered from experience by little ol’ moi.

1. Trust That He Or She Is Your Boss For a Good Reason

So you thought that promotion was yours, and now you’re (understandably) disgruntled by being passed over. Remember, this is your point of view. While you may have been a victim of favoritism in your mind, it could also have been due to skills you’re lacking.

Related: How To Befriend Your Boss

Either way, it’s up to you to decide if you will stay and carry on or if you’ll leave. If you decide to stick it out, keep in mind that this is your decision and that this is not the fault of your new boss. He or she didn’t choose to be your manager. So, it’s in your best interest to be open to finding out firsthand what this new, younger manager can teach you.

David Bakke of Money Crashers knows exactly how you might feel.

I have worked for a boss younger than me on a few occasions. The advantages in my opinion are that the younger boss can typically show you how to get things done faster and might be more in tune with the latest technology associated with your company.

I just got past it by telling myself that this is the set of cards you were dealt, so handle it. I think a lot of this has more to do with the mindset of the older worker than anything else.

The best way to make the relationship successful is to treat your younger boss just like you would one of your age or older. Respect is key.

2. Advertise Your Strengths

Remember that you do have more professional experience than she does. With age usually comes a wealth of knowledge that she should appreciate. Pinpoint your assets (which aren’t limited to skills, but also your network of contacts) to the team your boss is trying to build or improve upon, and let her know you’re anxious to help in any way. This will not only help you realize how much you have to offer, but it will also show your boss that you’re a team player with a designated talent and interest. You’ll stand out as being the first assigned to a project.

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3. Act As A Mentor, Not A Parent

When someone is younger than you are, it’s innate for many to take on an older brother or sister role. It’s okay to manage up, by all means, but you want to be careful not to come off as condescending. This will only irritate an already uncomfortable situation, and won’t do you any good if you are trying to show your boss that the age difference doesn’t bother you.

Related: Is Your Boss Parenting You?

If you have advice or recommendations based on experience that you feel will help your manager and your team as a whole, be thoughtful in your delivery and phrase it as something strategic for the business.

4. Act Your Age

Whatever you do, don’t feel obligated to act younger because your boss is younger. This may sound ridiculous, but it’s sort of like picking up a foreign accent when you’re speaking to someone with a foreign accent.

Having a younger boss doesn’t mean you need to buy hipper clothes, use cooler lingo, or adopt the mannerisms of the cool kids. (You’ll look ridiculous and seem insecure.) Be yourself and be open to enhancing your work content–not your personality.

Depending on how comfortable you feel about socializing with your coworkers outside of business hours (professionally, of course), consider doing coffee or a brief happy hour with your new boss to learn more about each other. This will usually lower the tension or anxiety you’re feeling and help you both to understand each other better. You may find that you have more in common than you realize.

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This article originally appeared in Levo and is reprinted with permission.