Managing your MANAGER - an insight into work relationship with your boss

“There has never been such a time as now where 4 Generations co-exist in one workplace”

One of the frequently discussed subjects most young people will engage in at some point in their career is the issue around the unsettling work relationship with their supervisors, managers or bosses. The choice of designation to use will differ and I assume is based on how the supervisor is perceived.

Many times, this relationship can be very frosty, causing lack of confidence and self-doubts for the young employee. This can easily go very bad from the use of bad choice of words to as casual as the display of egocentric body language.

But the realities of the times suggest that this is perhaps the first time we would have four different generations working at the same workplace! From the “baby boomers” to “generation Z”! 

All you need to do is look around your work place and you will find a 56year old Chief Executive Officer who is a baby boomer (1946 -1964) hunching over a set of executives that are mostly of generation X (1965 -1981) during executive meetings. The next line of managers are often a mix of generation X and Millennials (GenY) while a crop of interesting young “Generation Z” employees are already taking up the supervisory roles!

I dare say it’s an interesting mix!

The most interesting twist to this is the fact that each generation has unique attributes and value systems which can create conflict when working on a combined objective. This is where the dilemma begins for Human Resources Professionals. How HR specialists select recruits for specific roles must now evolve beyond just the job description, as the unique attribute of each generation must come to bear uniquely on each role.

I have studied the different generations over the last couple of years and I dare say, that the most difficult conflict is often between the Generation X and the Millennials!

To put this in context, I will briefly summarize the attributes of each of these 4generations.

Baby Boomers (1946 -1964) – They are arguably the most celebrated generation for so many decades, largely because the generation is so large and were at the center of industrializing the world economy as we know it. They provided the bedrock on which technology thrives today and they are typically optimistic individuals, team and service oriented in their approach to management. They are also process driven and may be considered as rigid, but they cherish relationships.

Generation X  (1965 – 1981) – They were born during the era of women’s rights, the introduction of the birth control pill, and legalized abortion. People of this generation are self-reliant, can be casual and direct, informal and cynical. They work very hard and may upset their work-life balance. They love music, can be defiant, but are generally complaint with processes and order. They are crisis managers and have excellent inter-personal skills making them quite friendly.

Millennials/Generation Y (1982 – 2000) – They rode around in cars bearing signs “Baby on Board” and structured upbringing. They will continue to expect the supports and structures they grew up with to be there for them where they work. They are confident and assertive bunch. They are also quite accustomed to praise, supervision and structure. You might call millennials needy… which probably has a lot to do with the ‘positive feedback’ culture which was so evident during their upbringing.

They are experts at multi-tasking ( I consider this generation to have evolved because multi-tasking comes naturally to them) and they are open to diverse views making them progressives and globally minded. Millennials are an ambitious lot. The very fact that they have such high expectations and ambitions means that they’ll work harder to get and keep what they want.

They want to feel as though they’re moving towards something, that they’re progressing and making a real difference, but they generally do not enjoy face to face time.

Finally, they are often less prepared to handle difficult situations.

For this post, I will skip Generation Z.

With this background in mind, a young employee who is between the age of 21- 30years working and reporting directly to a Generation X could easily start to avoid conflict with his manager by avoiding contentious issues or acting in defiance where conflicts arises.

The young millennial has amazing and unique set of skills especially analytical, IT, coding, drafting or any such skill along that spectrum. They are also comfortable working with resources obtained from unknown online sources.

They like to work smart and have a problem working in an organization that lacks a well-defined culture. Unfortunately, most organizations only have the culture and set of values on paper. They are often not promoted enough or even enforced.

They are inspired by leaders they can relate to. And unfortunately for employers, if they don’t get (at least some) of what they want, they’re more likely to move on for pastures new.

They don’t have as much to lose and their loyalty isn’t bought by salary.

This young millennial often thinks of his GenX supervisor (38 -45years) as an inconsiderate, inflexible and maybe even out-of-date (sometimes) boss. His impression of his supervisor goes even far worse when he considers his supervisor as someone who doesn’t respect work-life balance as he jumps into personal time and issues needless deadlines yet delaying reviews afterwards. He thinks his boss as lazy, always demanding respect and hardly takes suggestions on board. And it goes on and on. Surprisingly, if you know a manager that you think of in ALL these ways, then there is real frustrating situation here.

In response to this sort of supervisors, the young millennial starts to just do as he is instructed. Creativity becomes stifled and he starts to find solace and distraction in other tasks with other units or perhaps outside the work area. He may even start hating his job, loathe seeing his manager and would soon become bored and want out.

This could be one perspective.

But who is this supervisor and why is he such a wet drag?

Let’s look at the second perspective

The supervisor is a family man, burdened by responsibilities both at home, at work and at social & business networks. He leads his colleagues and has good influence within his network. He has immense experience and an impressive professional influence garnered over the years. With this, he probably compares note with colleagues in the industry and has a good oversight of the market.

However, he isn’t very skillful with online resources and tools. Where he has undergone training on them, he struggles a lot with using them and so is quite behind on acquiring new work skills. But he communicates excellently especially verbally and always revels in physical meet-ups. This makes online meetings and online teaching strange and boring to him. Because he believes working hard is proportional to success, he pushes for late office work in order to clear backlogs after valuable time has been occupied with meetings.

But right under his nose, he has watched physical meetings replaced by online platforms. He has seen performance management go from achieving the bell curve to a 360degree feedback. Dreadful! And he has watched governance and ethics unit introduce anonymous and the immensely popular whistle blowing initiatives (that millennials will use on the whim) and all sorts of restrictions that rein in his control. He has watched helplessly as communication evolve from being physical to mostly voice calls, emails and chat where he cannot discern the body language to take advantage during negotiations. He has watched annual trainings and retreats go online behind a screen.

It is quite a lot of change for this manager, I dare say. He is caught between the rapid advancement and switch in technology from his comfort zones that rely a lot on interpersonal skills to working behind a screen, be it mobile or desktop. This is possibly why this generation will clumsily goof while on zoom calls often guilty of unmuting their mics or showing videos accidentally during meetings. They would mistakenly send personalized emails as broadcast and all sort of technology induced errors.

This manager therefore struggles to understand or come to terms with how kids the age of his kid-brother regards him on a first name basis and why office crucibles are no longer a fancy at most organizations.

Now the good news is, the GenX can adapt even if slowly. A good many have caught on pretty quickly, adjusting, learning and making the best use of tools available to make work easier. They can smell the coffee – Its either they adapt or become utterly irrelevant.

True, the Millennials love to work smart. They love their work life balance, but the manager thinks of them as being evasive and easily drawn to social media and the likes. He sees them as disrespectful and not sharing in the same values as he has grown accustomed to because they would rather say a good morning at 11am and not first thing when they arrive the office. He thinks of the Millennial to be easily distracted because they use the online tools efficiently and can multi-task effortlessly.

He concedes regretfully, that the Millennials prefer online communications to personal and regular conversations they are used to. They appear to be easily bored especially when the task he has given to them do not tie into an overall goal/vision or objective or hasn’t be explained in that light.

Both sides appear to have reached an impasse!

To manage your manager as a Millennial, you must first understand the values he holds dear. It may even become more difficult if you have to manage anyone much older than the GenX.( this is arguable though. Apologies to those in that bracket)

What values do they hold dear? Let me share some here;

  • Building Trust and confidence
  • Communication
  • Respect
  • Responsibility/Ownership
  • Taking initiatives
  • Social bonding (for some) as it smoothens the edges

To manage a GenX, You will have to communicate a lot, even physically with your manager. They would sure appreciate that a lot. You will have to be more emotionally intelligent, stop thinking about yourself for a moment. If you understand his way of thinking, you will enjoy working with him.

To get up the corporate ladder, you will most likely need the nudge of your supervisor/manager and his experience to see you through. No matter how well grounded you are in your skillset or how knowledgeable you are in your field, going up in your career needs a lot more skills than you currently possess. And those skills sets will include the values that your boss and his bosses hold dear. So guess what? … will need to manage upward!

Think about this! In places where your career advancement, strength and usefulness is discussed, in your absence, your bosses would trade your future advancement based on how well they are managed.

It is therefore not enough to just complete your task or match or surpass your yearly objectives. You will find out that as long as you are working your way up, you will need to learn the new skills required to take you all the way up.

For the manager, it is important to consider the following in managing the millennials;

  • Don’t lie to millennials – if you break your promises, they will leave.
  • Make sure there are opportunities to grow (via new positions and/or training).
  • Give regular feedback (good or bad).
  • Consider flexible working benefits.
  • Build a great culture in your organization.

Most importantly keep an honest line of communication open with your millennial employee so that if there are any issues, they’ll come to you first.

Related Posts


5 thoughts on “Managing your MANAGER”

  1. Adedamola Ilori

    True on understanding the values that comes with your boss/supervisor’s age grouo and also about managing oneself upward for career growth.
    However, unfortunately some bosses want what I’ll describe as bootlicking.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us

Just write down some details about you and we will get back to you in a jiffy!