By Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR – FlashPoint

I am a Baby Boomer currently reporting to a Gen Xer. There are about 20 years between us. This is typical of the 21st-century workplace. Today, we not only have to manage better than anyone managed us, but we have to manage people very different from ourselves—and be managed by people very different than ourselves—as reporting structures change with the changing generations in the workplace.

When I started working, there were two generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers and Veterans. I could not wait until the “oldsters” were retired and gone—but of course, they are still working and make up about 7 percent of the current workforce. Just as Boomers came to manage Veterans, so now are Gen Xers and a few Millennials managing Baby Boomers.

The recession also forced many companies to reconfigure in order to meet new strategic plans, work with new markets, and connect with clients through new global and online channels. These reconfigurations have pushed many Millennial “high potentials” into new management positions and high-performing Xers into higher levels of management. And don’t forget that Xers and Millennials are avid entrepreneurs who have started and grown companies that hire the best talent, no matter their generation!

There are several generational differences in terms of approach to work. For Boomers, work is a place that you go; for Xers and especially Millennials, technology enables work to be a thing that you do from any location, at any hour, and on any day. Work and personal life have so encroached on each other in the past ten years due to technology that Xers and Millennials have adopted a practical approach and prefer to work when it is best for them. This might mean working far into the night, from a coffee shop, or over a weekend—so don’t expect them to be in their seats from 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday.

Work ethic is too often confused with having your seat in your chair by a certain start time and until a certain end time—or past a certain end time. For Veterans, loyalty and work ethic were defined by the number of hours employees worked. Too many Boomers are still hard-wired to come in early and stay late—on principle. Today, we face leaner staffs, consolidated jobs that mean more work, a push for innovation and creativity on the job on a daily basis, and an acute need for greater productivity per person as we compete in a tough, ever-changing global marketplace. Xers and Millennials define work ethic as getting the work done well wherever they are and by the deadline. If they finish early, it is time to go.

As a manager of Boomers and Veterans, however, an Xer or Millennial needs to provide the “face time” that they themselves may not need. This best comes in the form of a meeting or even a Skype meeting and is how my Xer manager manages me. We also e-mail daily, and I provide a weekly report of my activities, project status, and so on. Face time is critically important to Boomers for their productivity and their sense of belonging and team. Not so for younger managers and workers.

The dynamic between a younger manager and an older employee can be enhanced by doing four things:

  1. Showing respect. Respect is appreciated by every generation. If you want to have respect, you must also give it. Respect is always two-way, never one-way.
  2. Finding something that you enjoy in common, even if it is only the work. Perhaps it is animal rescue, community service, travel, or music.
  3. Making no age-related remarks whatsoever. Either party could take them the wrong way.
  4. Seeing difference as the advantage it is!

More Boomers report to managers younger than they are—in fact, managers who are not in their generation and who may differ from them in many other ways. It is important to assume the best. We all get what we expect!

Nancy Ahlrichs, SPHR - FlashPointNancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, is an author and Strategic Account Manager for FlashPoint, a global talent management firm based in Indianapolis. She can be reached at nancy@flashpointhr.com.