Age and experience doesn't always translate to authority in the workplace. While it might seem typical for employees to work their way up over time, that isn't always the case. Due to a myriad of possible factors, many businesses find themselves promoting younger people into positions of power where they are asked to manage employees – sometimes many years their senior. We surveyed 1,182 employees to find out how many people are working for younger bosses, how they see themselves compared to their bosses, and just what impact having a younger or an older boss can have on workers. Read on to find out what we discovered.
As older generations begin to retire, younger faces may start taking the reins. Managers may be responsible for employees double their age. But what do employees prefer? Fifty-five percent of survey respondents answered that they prefer an older boss, compared to less than 20% who preferred them younger. New advancements in tech, coupled with age bias, can cause older workers to struggle in the workplace compared to younger employees, which may explain why 37% of our respondents who prefer a younger boss said their company was either somewhat or very reliant on technology.
Male respondents were more likely to prefer both younger and older bosses than female respondents. Younger people surprisingly preferred older bosses. Respondents from the millennial generation were much more likely to prefer an older boss (58%), compared to baby boomer respondents (31%).
How a boss is seen by their staff can be hugely important in the workplace. We wanted to know how workers out there see their bosses, and how their perceptions can paint a picture of trends dependent on the age difference of their bosses. Bosses nine or more years younger than their employees were reported as more organized, hardworking, and better at communicating than any other age difference presented. In fact, they scored the highest in 10 of the 16 categories surveyed. The only category led by bosses nine or more years older than their employees was in supporting their success, which younger bosses were less likely to do, according to our respondents.
Younger bosses overall were seen as more organized than older ones. However, it seems like experience might help out in terms of teamwork, where older bosses led in categories like accepting solutions from the team and giving honest feedback. Open and honest feedback can ensure more transparency in the workplace, which can help mitigate dissatisfaction or perceptions of unfairness, which can greatly affect employee production and retention.
Job satisfaction and happiness in the workplace can be affected by a wide range of factors, and how you interact with your boss can be critical to your workplace experience. Some experts believe that the dynamic with a younger boss is the toughest to manage, however, our results revealed this isn't necessarily the case. We've seen what the strengths of each group are, but the perceived weaknesses of bosses can paint a similarly interesting picture.
While bosses over nine years younger than their employees were reported as having the highest scores for communication, that was also the No. 1 complaint about younger bosses by our respondents, with 25% reporting it as an issue. Younger bosses were also more likely to be seen as micromanagers (22%), compared to older bosses (17%). Some of the top complaints for older managers were trying to please others too much (24%) and gossiping (21%). Either way, younger or older, inappropriate behavior was a problem at the workplace, with both younger and older bosses being reported at rates over 15%.
There are clearly both positive and negative impacts of age disparity between workers and bosses, but knowing just where younger and older bosses are falling short sheds light on how age dynamics are at play in the modern workplace. The employees who answered our survey seemed to prefer an older boss on the whole when asked directly, but when broken down into individual positives and negatives in the workplace, the youngest bosses received some of the most positive responses. There were many similarities, too, in how both younger and older bosses were perceived by their employees, with similar scores in a variety of categories like feedback and expectations. Some industries seem to prefer to hire young and some defer to experience, but the former is becoming more and more common. Perhaps age really can be just a number.
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We surveyed 1,182 respondents ranging in age from 18 to 76 in order to explore the positive and negative attributes of working for older versus younger bosses. The mean age was 38 with a standard deviation of 11 years. 42% of our respondents identified as women, and 58% identified as men.
Survey data have certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We didn't weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses. This was a purely exploratory project that examines how people feel about the age of their boss.
Whether you're an employee who wishes your boss was older or you're a young boss looking to improve your leadership skills, we hope you found this study insightful. You are welcome to share this data for noncommercial purposes; we only ask that you link back to this article when doing so.