A/E Firms: The Younger Boss – Older Worker Situation

September 8, 2010 at 7:38 am 1 comment

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

An AARP report suggests that over 70% of us will work past normal retirement age. Many architects and engineers are delaying retirement or returning to work. We are seeing architectural and civil engineering companies confront the situation of “younger” boss overseeing the “older” worker.  So what are some of the relationship pitfalls of a new boss who comes in and is younger than their staff?

Let’s address three younger boss and the older worker possible interactions and how to make them successful experiences:

– Experienced engineers and architects tell me that many “younger” supervisors are closed off to assessing project team successes. Many new, younger bosses think that older workers are difficult to manage and they can be resistant to change. They may have the – if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it- mentality. Younger bosses come in with enthusiasm, energy, arrogance and don’t want to be told how to do something by their staff. It is the “everyone wants to be heard, but nobody wants to listen” issue. Both supervisor and staff need to appreciate each other’s experience and talents. Open, honest, two-way conversation is a must in any relationship. Preconceived notions of each other has to be put aside.

– Younger managers may view managing older workers as that of “managing my parents.” How does a supervisor talk about building a career to an employee with 30 years of experience? How do they mentor these employees? As an employee you should discuss how you have been of value to the team. Are there areas you want to explore in your work – new technologies to learn? Did your past supervisor hold you back from further training? This could be a chance to have a new, clean slate in your work. Help your boss to understand how to work best together; what are your goals? Younger bosses need to help their staff to think out of the box. Perhaps you have some creative ideas to help staff to be more enthusiastic about their work. Are there new technologies you can suggest?

–  Robin Throckmorton, co-author of “Bridging the Generation Gap” describes how younger bosses are more apt to assign a project and expect the employee to go off and complete it. If they communicate on the project they would prefer email to face meetings. Older staff like to have meetings to discuss the project, goals, status updates. Compromise. Many great leaders understand the importance of understanding how someone works/learns best and then fostering an environment that will allow for success.

For this blog, I have offered just these three examples of potential pitfalls in the younger boss – older worker situation. Good COMMUNICATION is a necessity in all supervisor – employee relationships; most especially in this kind! Keep in mind that stereotypes have to be left at the company front door on both sides. Older workers need to trust that upper management has their best interests in mind when they make supervisory changes and younger bosses need to respect the value that older workers bring to the team. Older workers’ insight and knowledge teamed with younger supervisors’ new ideas and techniques can be an unstoppable success!

Believe it or not, wisdom does come through experience. In my thirties, I was convinced I knew everything…now in my late forties I know I do! 🙂

What have you experienced in your office? Or, what stories have you heard? Bookmark and Share

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Companies, Civil Engineering Jobs, Employee Retention, The Workplace.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve Csotty  |  September 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Once as a “younger” corporate director of HR, I had a very experienced RN as a nurse recruiter reporting to me in a hospital. I learned quickly that all I had to do was support her efforts, give her resources and she was a much better recruiter than I . We are still in touch occasionaly.


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