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US Workplace Trend: Older Workers, Younger Bosses

There's a growing generation gap in America.

Not the one between kids and parents, but the chasm between young hotshots and aging geezers on the job.

According to the Christian Science Monitor newspaper [as reported by Marilyn Gardner on January 3, 2005] , an acute shortage of skilled labor is prompting employers to lure millions of older people back into the workplace after long, distinguished careers. And when they get there, whom do they find in the corner office? Quite often, they confront bosses young enough to be their children, or even grandchildren.

It's not long before the grumbling starts about these twenty-somethings, fresh out of business school, telling trusty old hands what to do, how to do it, and what new-fangled computer program to do it with.

To the graybeards' way of thinking, these snot-nosed know-it-alls have the people skills of a turnip.

For their part, the 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. They need to motivate what they see as stubborn older workers who are resistant to change and whose goals relate to retirement dreams, not the company's bottom line.

What's to be done about these generational tensions in the workplace? Human relations experts advise young managers to respect old folks' experience and solicit their ideas. And they urge the Old Guard to view new ways as a chance to stay current and vital.

They counsel patience -- with old Harvey when he gets to rambling about the good-old days, and with brash young Betty when she starts gushing about the virtues of video conferencing. In the end, it's hoped, there will be a meeting of the minds that can transcend youth and old age.