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Older Worker, Younger Boss: You Can Work It Out

“Dear Joyce: I am 52, and my new manager is 29. After working for this company for 15 loyal years, I resent having to follow directions from a kid supervisor. How long do you think it would take me to find a comparable job?

, K.R.


Too long. Though usually disguised, readers tell me that age bias , even in a supposedly desperately labor-short economy , is as epic today as it as 32 years ago before the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was enacted.

Commenting on masked age bias, a jobless senior made a classic observation: “”While I qualified for the public job description, I didn’t fit the private job description, which called for someone younger and cheaper.””

As a 50-plus job hunter, you certainly can overcome age prejudice, but you’ll campaign so hard you’ll learn to sleep standing up. And don’t be surprised if you can’t pull down the hefty salary you spent years working up to. Sure, go prospecting on the quiet, but in the meantime, pull out all the stops to make the topsy-turvy dynamic work to your advantage.

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What you’re experiencing firsthand is both old and new. Each generation’s demand for command is familiar. Just as Prince Charles would have Queen Elizabeth hand over the scepter forthwith, as younger politicians would hook Strom Thurmond off stage and into the mosh pit, and as youthful broadcasters would wipe ABC-TV clean of Sam Donaldson as he flirts with Internet broadcasting, swelling battalions of fresh young feet are stamping their way into shoes formerly filled by people in their late prime and old enough to be their parents.

What differentiates this generational turnover from those of earlier times is its rapidity and technological base. Managerial workers aged 20-34 have shot up from 4.8 million in 1994 to 5.2 million last year as managerial numbers in older groups decline. The next decade will see 7.4 percent fewer prime-of-life people in the labor pool to fill slots vacated by retiring baby boomers.

Youth Is Served


Promotions often go young managers who advance because of superior new technology skills, members of a generation who grew up on a feast of MTV and video games. Employers have always seen vigor and verve as the private property of youth but now, in a silicon-gilded age, may add to that vaulted perception a virtuosity , supposedly learned in business school or job shifting , for providing leadership, conquering technology and coping with constant change.

The younger boss/older worker dynamic drips with clashing generational values , Generation X vs. baby boomers. Gen-Xers comfortably hip-hop from job to job, want right-now results, are willing to bend old rules , and are intolerant of old-fud technophobes. The loyal boomers aren’t first in line to twist the rules and will wait on line for results rather than risk innovation-gone-wrong. They figure they’ve already made most of their mistakes and are intolerant of young-dude technophiles.

As working America faces a new kind of diversity, it’s time to find a meeting ground.

& #711; Older Workers

Avoid treating a young boss like a son or daughter, which could transfer old parental resentments. Try not to look shocked upon encountering your baby-faced boss, but offer your support and cooperation.

Avoid negativity when you respond as an adviser; volunteer warnings only in emergencies and have solutions in your pocket. Keep learning new work skills and jargon; invest in computer workshops on your own time.

& #711; Younger Bosses

Avoid exploding onto the scene full of brash attitude and gaudy ideas: The person who metaphorically salts everything before tasting may have to gulp water.

Invite prime-agers to buy into your new plan; they’re the ones who know enough to add perfecting pointers. Don’t be afraid to mentor or criticize elders; less likely to stray, you turn them into wise investments by helping to improve performance.

Generational strife is with us for keeps. The first wave of Generation Y is turning 21, and there are 1 & #733; times as many of them as there are of Generation X.

& #352;1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate”


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