How to Succeed with a Kid Boss (or Just Be One)

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When the boss is much younger, there are ways to make the awkward dynamic work between an older subordinate and a younger manager.
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The dynamics of authority in an office — figuring out how to be a boss or dealing with your own boss — are tricky enough without throwing age into the mix. How does it feel to have a manager who's younger than you are? Or to manage someone who's older than your parents?

Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School tells Money Talking host Charlie Herman that as average life expectancy rises in the U.S., people are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, and not all of them want to be at the upper echelons of corporate America. Meanwhile, as young workers are identified as future leaders of organizations, they can rise through corporate ranks quickly and end up managing older workers. This means being a young boss or having a boss who's younger is becoming more and more inevitable. In his book, Managing the Older Workerpublished by the Harvard Business Review Press, Cappelli examines and explains how to navigate the awkward new organizational order.

"It's sort of incumbent on the [older] applicant if they want the job to be able to explain to the hiring manager why they want this job and that they know...what they're getting into," Cappelli said. And hiring managers need to also be mindful that denying an older worker a job based on their age is against the law.

And when you land the job — either as the younger manager or the older worker — there are ways to ease the awkwardness:

1. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what they're thinking.

2. If you're the older subordinate: offer up your help. Don't call out their lack of knowledge, but find ways to offer your experience as an asset to the team. A good manager will take advantage.

3. If you're the younger boss: treat the older employee more like a partner. Office life in the 21st century doesn't have to resemble the tradesmen model where a master oversees his novice apprentice. A manager should help employees prioritize and excel at what they do best.

And Cappelli adds, these younger boss-older staff arrangements have potential for greatness.

"There's interesting research evidence on work groups that when you put older and younger workers together, it's the most cooperative arrangement because they're not in competition with each other quite so much. They don't see themselves as direct competitors."

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