Gen Y managers

Young bosses, older workers: Bridging the generation gap

November 11, 2011: 11:18 AM ET

Increasingly, Gen Y employees are managing people old enough to be their parents. That can be tricky, but there are ways to make it work.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: A couple of months ago, my boss abruptly left the company, and I was promoted to his job as leader of a 16-person product-development team. This was somewhat surprising, since I am the youngest team member (I'm 27) and have been here for the shortest period of time (two and a half years).

It's a great job and I'm delighted to have it, but several of my direct reports, who are twice my age or older, are not so thrilled. I'm trying not to let their wisecracks about my age get to me, but I am having a hard time getting them to take me seriously as their boss. So far, we've managed to get the work done despite the friction, but it's tough. Do you (and your readers) have any suggestions for me on how to win them over? — Nobody's Baby

Dear N.B.: Scant comfort though it may be, you've got lots of company. A survey last month by office-equipment maker Pitney Bowes found that about 20% of midlevel corporate employees now report to a boss who is younger than they are.

That figure seems set to climb: Almost half (45%) of manufacturing companies are trying to encourage workers in their 50s and 60s to stay on the job longer, so as not to lose their hard-to-replace skills and experience, according to a new poll of senior executives by Advanced Technology Services.

"It's happening everywhere," says Jim Finkelstein, president and CEO of a consulting firm called FutureSense, based in San Rafael, Calif., and author of a new book, Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace. Many of his clients are tech companies and family-owned businesses that bring him in to help resolve clashes between Baby Boomers and bosses they perceive as still wet behind the ears. More

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