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How to Manage Your Gen X Boss

5 Ways to Manage Your Gen X Manager

The generation gap is not a phenomenon even if it was only given a name in the 1960s. The term refers to the youths, then the Baby Boomers born after World War II, differentiating themselves from adults, namely their parents. 

The generation gap has since moved from the home to the workplace. With Singapore's ageing population, Millennials - those born between 1980 and the mid 1990s or 2000 - are finding themselves working shoulder to shoulder with Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1980. 

This should be not a cause for concern or a source of tension. Just because your is as old as your dad (or mum) does not mean the two of you cannot get along. Here are some tips on how to impress your Gen X boss and re-write his opinion of the Strawberry Generation. 


1. Know Your Gen X Boss

“If we are to live together in peace, we must come to know each other better”. US President Lyndon B Johnson made this statement in his 1965 State of the Union Address but it is as true today as it was then. If you want to get along with your Gen X boss, know what his generation is like.

Your manager grew up in a time when birth rates in Singapore and the rest of the world were on the decline. So, theirs is a smaller cohort compared to the Baby Boomers before. They were also raised in an increasingly industrialised Singapore and enjoyed greater prosperity than their parents.

As a result, they are independent, resourceful and highly self-sufficient. Many may have had working mums and been what Singapore calls “latch-key” kids. They are also incredibly flexible and adaptable to change. They are the original techies, the ones who enjoyed the Sony Walkman and saw the advent of the personal computer, the Internet and the handphone. They are strong advocates of worklife balance as well, long before flexi-schedules even became a thing.

If they sound a lot like you, you are right. Gen Xers have a lot more in common with Millennials than many realise. Appreciating this will help you bridge the chasm you imagine exists between the two generations.


2. Communicate

Yours may be the connected generation but theirs is the communicative one and their preferred mode of communication is: one, email; two, talking. So, while you may think a WhatsApp will suffice, take your cue from the boss – email, email, email. Most Gen Xers find WhatsApps too informal and casual for work. By the way, if you get an email from the boss, make sure you acknowledge it. There are no blue ticks in emails and a reply is the only way he knows what he says has not fallen into a blackhole or been forgotten.

If your boss is just steps away from you and it is a small or simple matter, talk to him instead. He already has a bulging Inbox, he does not need you to add to it. Otherwise, pick up the phone and speak to him. Yes, Millennials love texting and can message blindfolded. Gen X bosses, however, prefer hearing things straight from you rather than in disjointed text messages that require Millennial-speak to decipher.

Another reason talking to your Gen X boss works better is that they are naturally individualistic. While you may prefer a mentoring relationship, your boss values leaving you alone to do your work. Empowerment was a buzzword when they were in your position. So, if you want feedback, be proactive and ask.


3. Don’t Abuse Workplace Flexibility

It is true that Gen Xers practically invented worklife balance and the casual workplace. But you may have a looser definition of these concepts compared to your boss.

If he expects some face time or likes to see you at your desk, honour that. Sure, with a good laptop and WiFi, you can work out of any Starbucks in your sloppiest worst just as well as you can in the office. But being there, dressing the part and speaking well (put aside your Millennial lingo) still matter to Gen Xers. Make it matter to you, too.


4. Show Some Respect

Gen Xers complain that the young ones have no respect. Their impression is that Millennials like yourself are forever challenging status quo, thumping their noses at authority and talking down to them especially when it comes to technology.

Remember, they were the generation that fought the “establishment”. They understand the need to stand up and speak up. But they are also the generation that respects hierarchy and they have earned their titles. Their values have brought them this far. You need to respect that.

As for assuming they are tech idiots, don’t. Remember, they were the most tech-savvy lot till you came along. They may be slower to catch on but they do not mistake that for stupidity. They are generally more careful about untested products and platforms. Take the time to explain things to them and cut the condescension.


5. Keep to Deadlines

Deadlines and timelines matter to the Gen X boss. So does being punctual. Flexi-schedules do not mean movable deadlines. You will impress your Gen X manager to no end if you can deliver ahead of time and be early to meetings. It will put to bed the idea that Millennials are a pampered, entitled bunch.