How To Deal With a Boss From a Different Generation

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I once knew of someone whose boss had them print out all his emails.  Then the boss would hand write responses on the hard copy email.  After that she had to respond to each of the emails with what the boss had written down on the hard copy.  Wow. Painful.

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That is a pretty extreme case, but what do you do when your boss doesn’t appreciate the genius that is your ability to text with one hand?  Or they aren’t really comfortable with your capability to listen to your iPod while you churn out this month’s TPS report? In other words, your boss just doesn’t get your generational preferences.  Here are some steps to help you bridge the gap:

1.Remember that you will be in their shoes someday. In 2041 when you’re the boss and those youngsters who report to you are constantly telemessaging on their 3D hologram communicators you will be dealing with generational challenges, except this time you will be the one in charge.  How do you think you will want your employees to communicate with you about the perceived generational differences?  I imagine you will want your direct reports to treat you with respect and acknowledge your career accomplishments by being aware of your expectations for them.  The same goes for your current boss.  Treat them with the respect they deserve and understand that their values around work may be different than yours. Someday you will get to call the shots, but until then you may need to be patient and be respectful of your manager’s desires for your work behavior.

2. Find out what’s OK. Check in with your boss.  What are his or her expectations around how work gets done? There can often be misconceptions between the generations about results and time.  As a generality (which is almost always dangerous to make) the Traditionalists and Baby Boomer generation tend to associate productivity with results as well as being at your desk looking like you’re working.  Generation X and Y tend to view productivity by the final product and don’t really care about how or when it was done.  So find out if your boss believes your cell phone was surgically implanted into your palm and might be slowing you down.  Your boss will appreciate that you have the self awareness to discuss this with them and it will likely foster more open communication about how you like to work.

3. Do it better and faster. No one can argue with results.  If you consistently are a top performer on your team the boss will likely give you a much longer leash.  Freedom has to be earned at times and if you never let your boss down and you exceed their expectations they may not question your work habits.

4. Know Your Audience. Each of the generations prefer different methods of communication.  Boomers and Traditionalists tend to like to meet face-to-face or phone calls.  Those in Generation X are more likely to prefer email as a primary means of communication and Generation Y or Millennials will text or Tweet before they email.  When you dialogue with your boss about being on YouTube while you crunch your weekly numbers be sure to use their preferred method of communication.

5. Focus on Similarities. Start with what you have in common with your boss.  Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials all share the desire to give back to their communities.  Talk to your boss about ways you and your team can give back to your local communities.  In addition, talk to your boss about what they like to do when they’re not at work.  You’ll likely find that you have similar interests outside the cubical walls.  Start there and build a real relationship with your boss.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we will see five generations in the workforce next year.  So generational workplace issues are not going away anytime soon.  If you can learn to navigate generational preferences you will be way ahead of the pack.  To find out which generation you are in click here.

What have you found to be effective in dealing with a boss from a different generation?