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Connection Between Age and Leadership is Blurring

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new survey by CareerBuilder, age is becoming less and less a prerequisite for leadership. One third (34 percent) of survey respondents said their boss is younger than they are. Fifteen percent said they work for someone over a decade younger than them.

CareerBuilder worked with Harris Interactive to poll over 3,800 full time workers and over 2,200 hiring managers in the United States. According to the survey, most workers said they didn’t mind working for a younger boss. But, they suggested, differences in “work styles, communication, and expectations” show that the structure of work is changing.

Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder said, “Age disparities in the office are perhaps more diverse now than they’ve ever been. It’s not uncommon to see 30-year-olds managing 50-year-olds or 65-year-olds mentoring 22-year-olds.”

She added, “While the tenants [sic] of successful management are consistent across generations, there are subtle differences in work habits and views that all workers must empathize with when working with or managing someone who’s much different in age.”

CareerBuilder broke the group into age segments, comparing Boomers (55 and up) and Gen Y (25-34). The four main differences between Boomers and Gen Y were communication style, views on career advancement, work hours, and working styles.

Communication Styles

While there were a few slight differences in communication style between Boomers and Gen Y, the divide wasn’t as wide as many would expect. Sure, more Gen Y than Boomer respondents said they liked to communicate by email – but not many more.

All workers preferred to communicate face-to-face at work, with 60 percent of Boomers and 55 percent of Gen Y respondents naming this their favorite method of communicating.

The next preferred method was email or text with 28 percent of Boomers and 35 percent of Gen Y saying they liked this way the best. Finally, according to the survey, the old-fashioned phone call is falling out of fashion for workers of both age groups, with only 12 percent of Booomers and 10 percent of Gen Y claiming the telephone as their favorite method of communication.

Career Advancement Views

According to the survey, Boomers tended to place more of an emphasis on longevity at a job than Gen Y. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of Boomers felt you should stay in a job for at least three years, while only about half (53 percent) of Gen Y felt the same.

Gen Y respondents were more likely to say you should stay in a job until you learn enough to move ahead (47 percent, versus 38 percent for Boomers). On promotions, the disparity became greater – 61 percent of Gen Y said workers should be promoted every two to three years if they are doing a good job. Only 43 percent of Boomers felt the same.

Hours Working

Younger workers were also less likely than Boomers to be working long hours, with 64 percent of younger workers saying they work eight or less hours per day. Slightly fewer Boomers (58 percent) said the same.

This may be related to Gen Y’s willingness to take work home. According to the study older hiring managers were more likely to arrive earlier than 8am (53 percent versus 43 percent), but less likely to take work home (62 percent versus 69 percent).

Predictably, younger workers were more enthusiastic about working flexibly or in a results-oriented work environment. According to the CareerBuilder, 29 percent of Gen Y individuals said work hours shouldn’t matter as long as the work gets done, while only 20 percent of Boomers said the same.

Work Styles

Finally, the survey revealed an interesting distinction in work styles between Gen Y and Boomer employees and managers. CareerBuilder asked the two groups how they liked to work. Do they just jump in and figure it out as they go along, or do they create a plan first?

At 66 percent, Boomers were more likely to dive in without a plan, compared to just 52 percent of Gen Y employees. On the other hand, more Gen Y employees said they like to put together a strategy first (48 percent versus 35 percent).

The study shows that there are differences between the two groups, but none of the numbers were so far off that communication between the two generations should be impenetrable. In fact, what may be more surprising is how alike Boomers and Gen Y workers really are.

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