Working Wounded: Surviving a Younger Boss

Don't be their parent and other tips to survive in the modern-day workplace.

Oct. 5, 2007 — -- Dear WOUNDED: : My boss is half my age and is driving me crazy. How do you survive an attack of a twenty-somethings?

ANSWER: Here is a fun fact for you. Many of the most popular children's book authors: Margaret Rey, J.M. Barrie, Margaret Wise, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and Dr. Seuss -- never had kids themselves. Even though they lacked the experience of being parents, they were still able to write some of the all-time children's classics.

The lack of experience raising children didn't prevent these authors from writing books that spoke directly to kids. And just because your boss lacks years of experience, doesn't mean that he still can't be a great boss. I've listed three Do's and one Don't below for having a better working relationship with a younger boss. For more, check out Gravett and Throckmorton's book "Bridging the Generation Gap" (Career Press, 2007).

DO Remain current. Let's be honest, most younger people think that grandma and grandpa are best left out of today's fast moving workplace. But, as the old T-shirt says, "Old age and treachery will always beat youth and skill." The key is to do everything you can do to remain vital. Learn new technology. Go to current movies. Listen to the latest music. Stay in shape. Show them that it is a young person's world and you can more than hold your own in it.

DO Demonstrate your value regularly. The fact that you were the top regional salesperson in 1987 is something that you should be proud of. But you must also know that it's not what you've done in your career today, it's what have you done for them lately. Find out how your boss defines victory and look for opportunities to be successful in his eyes. Don't live in the past, but work to spot your next home run on the horizon.

DO Accept a different management style. If you are like most older workers, your early bosses were of the drop-down-and-give-me-twenty drill sergeant types. These days many younger bosses are more laid back. They're more inclined to give you basic directions and to leave you alone. For someone used to a more overbearing management style, it can be a challenge to learn how to be more self-motivated. Adapt to this longer leash and you just might be surprised to find that you actually like the working environment created by a boss who is only a fraction of your age.

DON'T Try to be their parent. Would you like to have another parent? My guess is no. Actually it's probably more like HECK NO. So don't try to be your boss's parent. The last thing you need is to stir up adolescent rebellion with the person who signs both your performance review and your paycheck. Be an employee, an advisor, a supporter -- anything but their parent.

Follow these tips and the book that will be written on your experiences with a younger boss won't have a scary ending.

Thought for the Week

"But if the young are never tired of erring in conduct, neither are the older in erring of judgment." -- Fanny Burney

List of the Week

Working the small screen … Which TV Show is most like your worksite?

  • The Office (boring & mismanaged), 53 percent
  • ER (fast paced & nonstop), 23 percent
  • The Apprentice (competitive & cutthroat), 12 percent
  • Grey's Anatomy (personal drama & romance), 11 percent
  • From: Monster

    Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than he does. His books include "The Boss's Survival Guide" and "Gray Matters: The Work place Survival Guide." Send your questions or comments to him via: publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.