When I was a teenager, I met my first girlfriend who actually became my wife. At that time, I was 15 and she was 17. This was a huge difference for many people. Even my parents were a bit concerned that I was dating a girl that was going to another school and was driving already! This is the first time I noticed that, while I didn’t mind, age does matter. A 2 year difference is far from being the end of the world, especially when you grow older. But how about a 10 or 20 year difference?
All right, I’m not asking you this question on a personal perspective (I’m not that nosy), but do you think that age matters at work? What happens when you are 10 years younger than everybody? Or worse, that you are a manager in your 30s and your team average age is 45? If you are having prolific career, you will face this situation. And if you are about to retire, you might have a boss that is your daughter’s age. How do you gage that?
Feeling Like a Kiddo
I’m currently 30 and working as a private banker for a wealth management department. This job requires a lot of knowledge and impeccable professionalism. All our clients are worth over $1M and request the best service possible. I’m obviously the youngest guy in the department. All my co-workers are 40-45… even 50! It’s normal when you think about it since these are the people who usually have the most experience. In addition to that, most millionaires are over 45 so they relate more to an older advisor than the young guy who’s their son’s age!
It’s not the first time that I’m the youngest employee in a department. Each time, it has been the same thing; the older more experienced employees look at me so I really need to be good enough to be there. They are expecting me to “prove myself” before I can officially join the club. They are usually sceptical that I can do the same job as them since I can’t possibly know what they know, right?
In this environment, I’ve noticed that I was better off asking them for advice and their experience (even though I know what to do) in order to show them that I respect them and that they can show me some stuff. It starts the relationship on the right foot and helps to create bonds with older employees. On the other hand, the worst thing I ever did was try to show them what I have learned prior to working with them. I knew I was good and knew I could teach them some tricks to make them more productive. However, since I wasn’t part of the “club” yet, this was a very bad idea! When you are younger than everybody else, don’t show off, ask for advice and let your results speak for themselves. There is nothing like a job well done to prove people that belong to their circle.
The Difference Between Generations
When I did my MBA back in 2009, we had written a paper on the shock of generations. You would be surprised to see how the Baby boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Y’s think, work and interact differently. Acknowledging these differences is huge if you want to get along with everybody.
Turning Age Difference to an Advantage
While working with different ages is a challenge, it can be a huge advantage as well. Young workers are usually eager for promotions and results oriented. Older workers have proven themselves and prefer recognition to promotions. If you can build teams where you use a mentor-student formula, you can get the best of both worlds; the experience and knowledge combined passion and motivation.
In my last job, I benefitted a lot from the experience and knowledge of the other financial planner that was 57 while I was 28. She was able to help me in areas only experience could give me. It was like gaining 10 years of experience in 2 years. This is probably one of the reasons why they had picked me to be part of an older crew! On the other hand, my boss is about my age so at least, I can relate to him if I have any generational problems .
Have you ever had trouble dealing with age at work? How old is your boss? Is there a big difference?