Having a boss young enough to be her son doesn’t faze Valerie Adams, 64, a sales account executive at KHON2.
She embraces it.
“Times have changed,” Adams said. “I came up in a world where there were much more layers of management and it was male and older.” That’s not the case in her current job where women are in leadership roles and her 29-year-old male millennial boss has always worked with women as equals or superiors.
It helps that local sales manager Phil LeRoy respects her knowledge.
Suggestions for older workers and millennial bosses (and vice versa) from multigenerational workplace expert and author Hayden Shaw.
1. Appreciate the differences. Bosses and workers should value what they can offer each other. Older generations should value the perspective and enthusiasm of the younger generation, and young people should value the experience and wisdom of older workers.
2. Be flexible. Managers and workers should make as many adjustments as possible to accommodate the preferences of how people work best, including understanding generational differences but not giving in to stereotypes.
3. Leverage the difference. Take advantage of having a multigenerational workplace. Set up a work environment where different perspectives are welcomed and add to a company’s bottom line.
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“If you are going to ignore all of that experience (of older workers), it’s a huge wasted opportunity,” LeRoy said.
Millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the workforce, and as they rise through the ranks, it’s becoming more common for older workers to report to millennial bosses. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey found that 38 percent of workers had a younger boss and 16 percent of those responding had a boss who was 10 or more years younger.
And while some conflicts are bound to happen, 91 percent of workers in the survey found that age difference wasn’t an issue in their working relationship.
Adams and LeRoy were coworkers before he was promoted last year.
Adams said she was happy forher friend and supported his decision to pursue a management track.
“I just said, ‘I’m here to help you,’” she said.
For his part, LeRoy said he called a staff meeting when he got the job and let them know that “it’s not just my way or the highway.” He also met individually with each salesperson to listen to any concerns.
Workplace experts say that kind of collaborative work environment is the best way to keep both management and workers happy and productive.
“Research shows that approachability and respectfulness are the most desirable management characteristics that people of all generations want,” said Hayden Shaw, an expert on the multigenerational workforce and the author of “Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart.”
“Bad management is bad management no matter what generation you are,” Shaw said.
Most problems in multigenerational workplaces happen when people give in to generational stereotypes and when there’s a lack of respect by older workers for young people and vice versa.
“The thing that I’ve seen really trip up younger managers is that they feel like they have to be in charge,” Shaw said. “Older generations have less patience for (authoritarian leadership) than other generations.”
Another area of conflict in the workplace is change. Older workers are sometimes seen as resistant to change by younger workers, Shaw said, while younger workers and managers tend to be more open to changing things. The key to engaging older workers is to able to explain how changes will benefit them and the company, he said.
When generations make the effort to work together, the workplace and the company benefit, Shaw added.
Both Adams and LeRoy agree that diversity in the workplace, in age, sex and ethnicity, helps them understand different clients needs. If they are selling advertising to a people of a younger demographic, it helps to bounce ideas off younger people in the office, and the same thing applies to older audiences.
Adams said LeRoy’s positive attitude and fresh spirit help keep her from being jaded and complacent about her job.
Adams and LeRoy also found that despite their generational differences, they have a lot in common. They both like Fleetwood Mac, for example.
“I think he (LeRoy) is an old soul in a young body,” Adams said. “I happen to be a young soul in an older body.”
Barbara Kim Stanton is the state director for AARP Hawaii, an organization dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age.