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So Your Boss Is A Millennial. 4 Ways To Deal

Rolling your eyes at demands doled out via Slack won't help.

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illustration of women face to face at work and one being younger
Tara Jacoby
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Remember when you thought that by the year 2020, you’d be commuting to the office via a flying car? The reality is perhaps even harder to fathom: Millennials —the group of bright-eyed upstarts born when you grunted through your first summer job — will soon make up 35 percent of the global workforce, per the consulting firm ManpowerGroup. And some of them will be your boss, if they’re not already. It can be weird, but it doesn't have to be. “This is the face of the future,” says Jeanne Meister, a New York-based partner at the HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace. “As more boomers exit, more millennials are promoted faster because there’s a lot of leadership opportunities.” Rolling your eyes at their assignments and demands doled out via Slack won’t help the adjustment period; neither will anecdotes about MTV’s heyday. Here’s how you can cope and still come out on top.

Forget the stereotypes

They’re lazy. Entitled. Addicted to Instagram. Now put all the generational stereotypes aside and move forward. Truth is, just because you never relied on Google for college term papers and worked up the corporate ladder the old-fashioned way doesn’t mean that you have nothing to learn from the younger generation — or that the generalizations are accurate. “You have to get the misconceptions out of the way because they may not apply to your situation,” Meister says. Besides, she adds, a manager that speaks social media fluently can lead to overall benefits: “The best-performing teams are diverse. Maybe this boss has deep knowledge in the tech area that can bring a new perspective.” And if the boss brings little to the boardroom table? “A boomer or another Gen Xer may not be adding anything either. Age is irrelevant in that regard.” Fair point.

Set boundaries

You gotta jet early to relieve the babysitter and make dinner; the boss prioritizes work and is so attached to the phone that it might as well be an umbilical cord. How to speak up for yourself without seeming like an annoying slacker? Meister suggests parameters: “You must be clear and upfront about your family situation from the beginning and don’t let it simmer. If you lay it out there, there’s no specific misunderstanding.” Offering to work remotely can be a fair compromise — and alleviate the guilt factor. “Assure them that you’ll get the job done, except you’re going to take a break between, say, 5 and 9 p.m.” And keep in mind that the younger boss may be starting a family while the Gen Xer is divorced and sans kids: “Everybody brings their own family dynamics into a workplace.”

Don’t dwell on differences

There’s a chance you’ll never be best friends outside work, and even the office holiday party banter seemed forced. (Hello, you were just being polite when you asked to see her vacation snap!) Just try not to be hung up on the opposites-don’t-attract issue. “If you’re married and you have two kids and the millennial is single and dating, don’t constantly talk about soccer practice,” she says. “You don’t have to keep calling attention to the fact that you’re at different life stages.” Instead, hone in on the one important denominator you two have in common. “You both are trying to make the team successful,” Meister points out. “If you remember that and take the personal aspects out of the equation, you’ll find it will be a lot easier to communicate.”

Be the adult

Soooo, you’ve reached your generational boiling point. Before you blow your top, take a deep breath and reconsider. In fact, Meister says that the No. 1 mistake that Gen Xers make with millennial bosses is that they too easily go into condescending lecture mode. “Saying something like ‘Well, 20 years ago when I did this, here’s what worked’ is a huge turnoff,” she says. “Why would you do that? And what you learned back then may not be relevant in today’s day and age.” At first, it may feel different to report to a millennial boss, but it’s up to both of you to make it work. “You’re tapping into an emotional situation and you have to be humble about it,” she says, “so accept the reality and make the lemonade out of the lemons.”