Career coach: Coping with age differences at work

Q A senior HR manager has just been appointed from another company to be my boss, and he’s 20 years younger than me. I’ve been with this organisation for 15 years and, because of our age difference, I don’t know if I’ll be able to work with him effectively. What can I do?

A The age difference is clearly a problem for you if you are worrying about it before you have even tried to work with him. But why is it such a problem? What assumptions have you made about this person? Are you imagining that he will be young and inexperienced, a brilliant go-getter, or a workaholic with no work-life balance?

You need to realise that it is your own assumptions, values and beliefs that currently stand in the way of you working effectively with your new boss. We tend to create assumptions based on our beliefs and personal experiences, and we then look for evidence to justify those assumptions. For example, if you think a person is arrogant, you may interpret their silence as arrogance, rather than simply shyness. This is because our beliefs work like filters. Essentially, we see what we want to see.

If you could find the underlying reason why you have an issue with his age, it would help you to understand how you could work more effectively with him. Do you feel threatened by him? Do you think he isn’t going to value your experience? Are you worried that he will think you’re obsolete? Why does him being younger than you affect your life and your experience? In what way are you any different now to how you were before you heard the news that he was being appointed? This is a reflection of your own beliefs about yourself, prompted by him.

We tend to compare ourselves to other people’s lives without taking the whole story into account. Our life is where it is because of our choices, values and beliefs. Other people are where they are in life because of their choices, values and beliefs. Someone else’s life is not a good benchmark to judge your own against.

The important question is: how can you work effectively with your new boss? The first thing to do is to take responsibility for ensuring and believing that you will work effectively with him.

Put yourself in his shoes: if you were him, what would you want from your new team? How could you help him to be successful in his new position? How could your experience benefit him?

Be proactive. Focus on how to make the relationship successful, and you will find opportunities to work together effectively.

By Marielena Sabatier, executive coach and co-founder, Inspiring Potential

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