At age 24, Roberta Matuson was promoted to director of human resources at the commercial real estate firm where she worked. To her delight and chagrin, she inherited a division with many experienced employees, most of whom were old enough to have been her parents. Indeed, one worker had a daughter around the same age as Matuson at the time. “She would often point her finger at me when she spoke to me, which of course reminded me of my own mother,” Matuson recalls.
A few decades down the road, Matuson looks back with fondness on the workplace circumstance into which she was dropped. She defused the potentially thorny relationship with the finger-pointer in a quick sit-down (“She said she never realized she was doing this”) and ended up communicating easily with all her direct reports, young and old alike. But Matuson, now CEO of Matuson Consulting and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, cautions that workplace communications between experienced employees and younger bosses remain a real challenge.