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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 94 – How do I give advice to my much younger boss without being patronising?

No. 94 – How do I give advice to my much younger boss without being patronising?

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15 February 2023

I am a guy in his mid-50s whose supervisor is a young lady in her mid-20s. She and I share a lot of the same work values and principles, so I am glad to be working for her and I have a lot of respect for her approach. From time to time though I disagree with her but have been swallowing this down out of fear of appearing disrespectful or patronising given our age difference. Do you have any thoughts on how best for me to approach these disagreements in a way that lets me get my point of view across without seeming mean?

While it may be an issue for you, your supervisor is clearly doing a good job and would value your feedback. By not sharing your thoughts with her, you are robbing her of the opportunity to learn and develop her leadership which I am sure she would love to build on. My suggestion is to try not to focus on her age. She is a professional with the experience and education to be in the role she holds.

Offering feedback, even to your boss, never needs to be done in a way that is mean. Offering feedback in a kind and constructive way can build a trusting relationship. Organise a time to chat with her or perhaps wait until your next one-on-one meeting. Listen for her to open the door by asking whether there is any feedback you might have or things she could do differently. If that doesn’t happen, just gently ask whether she might be willing to hear some ideas from you on things that might assist in her role.

Be ready with a list of things she is doing well. Then also ask whether she has noticed that ‘XYZ and happens when she does ABC’. See what she says; ask if she is open to some ideas on how that could work a little differently. Make your suggestions in ways that are not personal attacks – this is simply about making what seems to be a positive working relationship even better. If you go into the conversation with that in mind, it will be difficult for any feedback you offer to be perceived as being mean.

I am a retired registered nurse and I worked with a young nurse who originally came from the UK on a 457 visa. Her manager kept threatening that her visa could be cancelled at any time, and the manager also played people off against one another until good staff left while the bad ones stayed on. I sent a complaint to the Human Rights Commission about the bullying, but they took no action. My friend left after the abuse and now can’t get a job or reference. So, how does an excellent nurse ever get a position in their field of expertise if they are a victim of historical and current managerial bullying? The hospital we both worked at has threatened to sue if we go public about this.

I am sorry to hear this has been the experience of your friend, and it sounds like the environment you both worked in was very difficult for you both. The Human Rights Commission is an independent third party, which is an excellent first point of call. If they have decided to take no action, it may be worth seeking to understand precisely why that was. It doesn’t mean they did not believe you or your friend but rather their threshold for getting involved was possibly not met. The Fair Work Commission may be another avenue for your friend to look into further.

In terms of trying to find another job, it sounds like you can be an excellent reference for your friend as she searches for a new role. If she is a member of a union, she can also contact them for assistance and any options that may be available to her.

I work in an office with five colleagues. All lovely people. One keeps a lolly jar on her desk and constantly refills it with sweets and chocolates. She is fabulously generous although never eats anything from the jar. It’s just the rest of us who have zero willpower. We would love her to stop with the sweets. Any ideas? We want to avoid hurting her feelings, so we need help.

I feel your pain. I also have zero willpower (as I stare longingly at the chocolates on my desk). The only way to sort this is to go together in good humour, shower your friend with love and flowers, let her know how much you appreciate her generosity and then, be honest. Maybe you could suggest she replaces the sweets with something a little healthier?

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