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Age Gaps Increase Recession Workplace Stresses

A workplace generation gap is showing up in two ways at a most unfortunate time for older Americans during this prolonged recession.

On one hand, older workers by the millions who are getting laid off in struggling industries are finding it hard to get new ones when younger, cheaper workers are available. And as the Christian Science Monitor online newspaper points out, when employers DO hire skilled, older people who've had long, distinguished careers, these veteran workers show up and find they're reporting to foremen, supervisors, and even big bosses in the corner office who are young enough to be their children -- or even grandchildren.

Most older workers are savvy enough to know they have to keep their feelings to themselves, but many can't help grumbling about these snotty 30-somethings who are telling trusty old hands what to do and how to do it without having had the experience to know what they're talking about.

For their part, young supervisors, full of bright ideas, at ease with the latest technologies and eager to work whatever hours it takes to get the job done, face a stiff challenge. How does one motivate what young bosses see as stubborn old goats who are resistant to change and who seem more interested in putting in just enough effort to make it to retirement, rather than contributing fresh ideas to help the company reach its bottom line?

What's to be done about these generational tensions in the workplace? Human-relations experts advise young managers to respect and learn from the experience of seasoned hands, and to solicit their ideas. And they urge the Old Guard to view new ways as a chance to stay current and vital. They counsel respect and patience on both sides - a meeting of minds between the graybeards and the whippersnappers.