So your new boss wasn't even born when you finished high school. Is that going to bother you? Not at all, according to a new study from staffing service OfficeTeam in Menlo Park, Calif.
Eighty-four percent of polled employees said they would be comfortable reporting to a manager who is younger than they are; 89 percent said they wouldn't mind supervising an older employee.
"For the first time in history, four generations of employees are in the workforce," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam. "Companies recognize the benefits of having diverse, well-rounded teams, and employees may be just as likely to report to a younger supervisor as an older one."
Traci McCready, a principal at the Boston-based Capital H Group, a human capital consulting firm, says she was surprised by how few age-related issues she faced as she climbed the corporate ladder to become a principal—something rare for someone in her mid-30s.
"I have come up through the ranks very quickly," she says. "To be quite honest with you, I anticipated a lot more push-back than I ever received. The only place that I have ever encountered it is my own head."
Furthermore, McCready has faced one of the hypotheticals posed in the survey: She's managed people significantly older than herself. She says age isn't an issue—but respect is. "[Older employees] add so much value. You just have to treat them with respect," she says, adding, "What I find when you're managing someone significantly older than you is that they're going to have a completely different perspective than what you have, and you have to expect that. It's not right or wrong, it's just different."
David Hisbrook, client manager and vice president at Starr Tincup, a marketing agency in the software and services space in Fort Worth, Texas, says at 54, he's the oldest member on his 18-person staff, which averages around age 29. His boss is 20 years younger. But he says he's happy with the office dynamic.
"Bottom line: [Age is] not an issue for me," Hisbrook says. "At my stage of career (and life), the higher pressure, higher stress, and longer hours of the senior management level are not as interesting and not as doable as they once were.
I love my work, and the company is great. I'm just not as interested in running things as I once was."
Hisbrook has advice for those who find themselves the oldest of the pack:
1. Get a good fit. If you have a comfortable financial situation, find the "right-sized" assignment for yourself.
2. Share the wealth. Use your experience to help others more than to advance yourself.
3. Step back. Allow others to take the reins. Understand that you are contributing a lot, even if you don't run things like you used to.
4. Don't judge. Accept, and even embrace, the idea that someone younger than you might be smarter and more experienced in the specific tasks at hand.
Domeyer adds that employees today are recognized more for their performance than for their tenure with a company. "In an ideal office setting, managers and staff are focused on the skills and knowledge people bring to their roles, not what year they were born," she says.