older boss calls me “kiddo” and I don’t like it

In a different take on yesterday’s post about age, a reader writes:

I’m a young female employee who began working in September for a large manufacturing company at their corporate headquarters. My boss came to the company about a month after me from our number one competitor. He has been in the industry for his entire career and is very well respected and knowledgeable. He is also my father’s age and I am his daughter’s age. Coincidentally, I graduated from the London School of Economics in 2009 and his daughter finished there just this last year. So we have many similar traits.

I believe it is for this reason that he calls me “kiddo” often enough that I am more than slightly bothered by it. My position of sales analyst is part of a graduate training program that the company implemented last year so it would seem that I have kind of an “intern” position to him (although that is certainly not the case). But I am not really sure how to tell him politely that I do not wish to be referred to as “kiddo” and that, although I am his daughter’s age, I am actually a professional working for the company and would prefer to be treated as such.

I don’t want to take a harsh stance whatsoever but can you please suggest a kind yet effective way of getting my point across?

Personally, I’d be more interested in the substance of how he treats you than whether he calls you “kiddo” or not. Does he take you seriously, take your work seriously, and give real credence to your input? If so, I’d be inclined to think you’re being too sensitive because he’s not, in fact, treating you like a kid, and he’s showing he respects your work. In that case, I’d assume he’s simply using a gender-neutral, friendly nickname.

Of course, it’s still your prerogative to say, “Hey, could you not call me kiddo because I’d like to be taken seriously around here,” but if you already are being taken seriously, then I’m just not sure it’s worth caring about.

However, if he doesn’t seem to take you seriously, and condescends to you in other ways, then I’d address that head-on. In that case, the nickname is more a symptom of a larger problem, and it’s the larger problem that you should address.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you, Alison! This is great advice. He does value my work and he seems to take me seriously. I will try not to be so sensitive about it and just keep doing my best to produce good work. I appreciate your take on it. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Love your blog!

    1. mouse*

      Honestly, if you feel like he takes you seriously, he’d probably be responsive if you politely told him that the kiddo thing bugs you sometimes. Because for all that HE takes you seriously, someone else could get the wrong idea about kiddo, and take you less seriously because they feel like he’s doing likewise. I hope that makes any kind of sense.

  2. Anonymous*

    I am also guilty of calling a younger, female subordinate “kiddo” and honestly, never considered the potential offense the individual may take to this term. As you’ve said, it’s a friendly, gender-neutral nickname and frankly I would only use such a nicknames with individuals who’s work I respect and valued!

  3. Anonymous*

    Lighten up! Man, the stuff people b—- about. It’s called a term of endearment. Get over it.

      1. ming on mongo*

        Actually they’re just telling it like it is… lighten up already! And yes, it might depend on the context, whether you’re being talked down to in other ways. But mostly it’s just used informally & affectionately, though it tends to be more common among ”older” generations and mostly guys. Though I hope you’re not one of those types who also gets pissy whenever a guy holds the door open for you… sheesh!

  4. Lesley*

    I’ve had two bosses who called me kiddo. One was when I was in high school (and admittedly a kid), who treated me very well and continually increased my responsibilities for as long as I worked for her.
    The other one was a temporary manager, sent in to “fix” our department. I actually went to my boss (who was fired the next day) and asked what to do about it because there was a slightly hostile tone to it, and this woman was constantly belittling me and acting like I didn’t know what I was doing.
    My point is–there’s usually a vibe that goes with a nickname. If the relationship is friendly and respectful, then take it as a sign that you’re liked and valued. If the relationship is sour…well, I never did figure out what to do about that! Look up AAM’s articles on jerks–they probably would have helped me at that time.

  5. Savvy Working Gal*

    I work for a family owned business. The owner of the company who is in his 70’s calls me kiddo. I have also heard him call his 36 year old son kiddo as well as our HR Director who is the same age as me (49). Honestly, I think it is just a habit and no big deal. I wouldn’t say anything.

  6. nuqotw*

    I think there is possibly another issue here (though the OP doesn’t mention it) – the impression it may give other employees about OP’s role. (OP, does it?) Does the boss call everyone kiddo? In that case, it doesn’t matter. But if he calls a particular subset of employees kiddo, and doing so does impact the other employees’ impressions of the “kiddo”s, I might look for a nonconfrontational way to bring it up, mentioning in the same time that I think he’s a great boss, does value me/my input, etc.

    1. Anonymous*

      Actually, he doesn’t call anyone else kiddo. I sincerely think it’s because I am his daughter’s age. I am also the youngest person at this company. I don’t necessarily take offense to it. But as a 26 year old among people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, I personally would like to be taken a little more seriously. But I guess it doesn’t really merit me saying anything to him unless other people start to discount the work that I’m doing. Thanks for everyone’s input, though. It’s been very insightful!

  7. Amy*

    I hate, hate, hate being called kiddo. I’ve had various bosses do it throughout the years, and whether they respect me or not, it grates. Even if I am treated with respect, being called kiddo makes me sound like, well, a kid. Kiddo might seem like a term of endearment (as stated above), but honestly, I’m not sure that a term of endearment is necessary in the workplace. If I was being called sweetheart, would that also be okay just because the person calling me sweetheart values my work? And as for the nickname thing – why does that make it okay? What if the boss called everyone stinko? Should they suck it up as long as they don’t actually stink?

    I think that the word kiddo is likely thrown out without malice and by people who honestly have no idea how grating it sounds to a younger subordinate, and I’ve never lost my cool about it or confronted the (several) bosses about it, but why not just call people by their names…then you won’t have to worry about a nickname/term of endearment/whatever having any negative impact.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s any different than other nicknames in the same category — sport, champ, chief, etc. Do we really have to take offense to that?

      1. Phyr*

        If someone wanted to be called by a nickname they would say as such because they can be seen as insulting or just cause problems. I personally don’t think they should be used in a workplace because other people make assumptions biased on them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I wouldn’t use them myself for that reason, but given that she has a boss who does use them, I’d argue for not being fussy about it. It just doesn’t have to be that big of a deal.

          1. Phyr*

            Just because he does doesn’t mean that she has to like it. It’s not being fussy if it’s making her uncomfortable.
            A reasonable conversation is just that, she can tell him how it makes her feel and they can talk it over.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, absolutely, totally her prerogative, as I said in the original post. But there’s also some value in letting little stuff go and trying to not be bothered by it. It tends to be good for one’s quality of life.

      2. Spam-Math, yum.*

        I’m with AAM here. I hate being termed a “girl” and find that offensive, but I also realize the latest generation doesn’t mind it.
        We all have to realize there are generational differences with nicknames. “Kiddo” in the 40s/50s/60s used to be more like “buddy”, but “the girls” used to be derogatory. Times change. Unless it’s mean spirited, just translate it in your head to something you don’t mind.

        I used to work with a woman who could not stand to be called a “gal”. lol

        1. class factotum*

          I asked a question on facebook to the local farmers market (on their page). I asked if “you guys” had a certain product.

          I live in Wisconsin. “You guys” is the “y’all” of the north.

          I got a snippy response that they were mostly gals.

          I said that OK, next time I would ask if “youse” had a certain product. Sheesh.

          1. a. brown*

            Would they be snippy if they were men? I’m sure there’s something you would not like to be called, and everyone is different. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            On the other hand, when something is so common (like “you guys”), being snippy about it is pretty silly. People are entitled not to like commonplace sayings, but it makes no sense to give other people grief for using it. (Particularly when the saying is inoffensive; it would be different if we were talking about racial slurs or something like that, obviously.)

      3. April M.*

        I think so. Term of endearment = not professional, and bordering on patriarchal in my book. Kind of cute, isn’t it? You know, going to work with daddy… I wouldn’t get snotty about it, but I would try to work out a way of saying something about it.

    2. Laura L*

      Agreed! I really dislike being called kiddo or most other nicknames by people who aren’t close friends or close family members.

      1. Kay*

        I absolutely agree! I look about 10 years younger than I am and I HATE being called “kiddo”. At work I want to be treated as a professional, nothing more, nothing less.

  8. Dawn*

    My boss and mentor of more than 10 years calls me “kiddo” and it doesn’t bother me. Never did. He’s 30 years older than me and I know it’s a term of endearment coming from him. Just as “older than dirt” is a term of endearment I call him from time to time. :-)

  9. Ams*

    +1 to what Amy said. Unless he’s calling everyone in the office kiddo, it’s potentially giving the impression that you are too young/not experienced.

  10. Anonymous*

    Are we running out of interesting things to discuss? Is this petty complaint really worthy of a post?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I find it pretty interesting, actually — and assume others find it of interest, since it’s garnered 10+ comments in about two hours!

  11. EngineerGirl*

    Why not just ask him? “Hey Dave, is now a good time to talk? (wait for a yes answer). I noticed on several occasions you have called me kiddo. Some people take that as a sign of friendliness, and others can take it as a sign of disrepect. I know you have a highly respected reputation, and I don’t believe that you intend to dis me. But just to get things out in the open, I was wondering why you call me kiddo? Can you share your perspective with me?”

    That ought to open things up for discussion in a non-hostile friendly manner. But watch your tone of voice. Your intent is to seek answers and gain understanding – not to judge the man.

    1. Not a good time to talk*

      Off topic, but . . . I work with two people who poke their heads in my office, ask, “Is now a good time to talk?” and plop their problem on my desk before I finish explaining I have a pressing deadline, a meeting, and a computer glitch, and Tuesday would be better. Next time, I’ll answer, “Does it matter?”

  12. SME*

    I’m with AAM on this one. I think that, within reason, it’s important to roll with the spirit of the thing. My boss calls me darling, sweetie, dear, etc. It was shocking to me when I first started, but it didn’t take long to see that she does it regularly with all sorts of people, and that it’s just a sign of positive affection, and reflects the high esteem in which she holds me. Are those words I’d use on other people in the workplace? Never. Does it degrade or harm me in any way to be the recipient of them in this case, which is totally devoid of denigration or sexual harrassment? Nah….

    1. X2*

      Keep in mind though, even if you don’t find names like darling, sweetie, dear, etc. to be offensive when directed at you that someone else at work could see these as sexual harassment based on them creating a hostile work environment… Your inclination to never use them in a work setting seems spot on. Regardless of why someone would be using these words, a competent manager should be aware of the impact of these words and not just their intent.

  13. JC*

    I have to admit, I wouldn’t want anyone calling me “kiddo” in the office, by anyone (male or female, boss or lower than). I’m a grown woman, not a kid. I can deal with sweetie, darling, honey, from a female co-worker/boss AND if she calls everyone else by those names as well. I guess I have a different situation on my end – One of my older co-workers needed help with a tech issue. I helped him via email with all of it, and he immediately wrote me back with “Thanks kid!” He also playfully fake-hit my shoulder one day when I was talking to him about work related issues. I found the entire thing to be really demeaning. Luckily, I don’t have much interaction with him so it’s not worth bringing up…but I can understand how being called “kiddo” can make you feel like your professional life is being slightly undermined, whether intentional or not.

    I do agree with AAM though that it’s not too big a deal if he’s not treating you like a kid overall.

  14. Hannah*

    I have been called kiddo at the office too. It doesn’t bother me because my work speaks for itself. If people want to call attention to my age or the fact that I the one female on an all male team of engineers, I welcome it. If anything, I will get that much more credit for doing work that others are happy with.

  15. Steve*

    I am in my early twenties and is in a rotational program… I am on pretty good terms with my previous bosses that I had when I was an intern and also in my previous rotation program. I got called a “boy”, an “intern”, and “kiddo” … they only start doing that once they get comfortable with me; and we were usually joking around after work or before going home… I wouldn’t take it seriously; but more so that your boss is actually comfortable with your presence and that you should feel good about it.

  16. Anonymous*

    To start, I think those who are saying “lighten up” or “you’re too sensitive” are being harsh. There are people who don’t like nicknames – whether it’s a generic nickname like kiddo or a variation of one’s name (for example, a Thomas who doesn’t like Tom or a Stephanie who doesn’t like Steph). What you are called is really a personal and sensitive topic.

    The only time I would agree with the OP is if everyone in the office had a nickname. If everyone was a “kiddo,” “hun,” or “sport.” But since that’s not the case, then there really shouldn’t be a reason for it. It can give off the wrong idea from showing disrespect or perhaps even a bias towards that person over the rest. It should be up to the OP if she wants to be called “kiddo.”

    1. Anonymous*

      “Don’t like nicknames.”
      Dude, it’s work. Who ever said you had to like work?
      Whiny cry babies.

      1. Anonymous*

        Rude much? In trying to be insulting, you took a lot out of context and put words in that I never said.

        Everyone is different, and there are some who don’t like to be nicknamed. And it’s people like you who try to trivialize these people’s opinions to make it seem like they are the ones with the problem and not the person who is calling them a nickname. If someone is unhappy about it, they should be able to ask for that person to stop. Plain and simple.

        And since when did this become a conversation about having to like work? You must really be fun to work with then. I can imagine the insults to your colleagues if they don’t like something and you think it’s stupid.

          1. Anonymous*

            Found one troll, trying to bully online without contributing anything worthwhile to the conversation. Hopefully no one works with them in the real world.

  17. Chris*

    I wouldn’t stress about it. If he likes your work and he says it with a smile, enjoy a great work experience. Quite a few people use terms of endearments. This seems especially true if there is a large environment and people cannot remember names. I have been called honey, sweetie, hon, man, chief, home skillet, holmes, boy, etc. I have had women put their hands on me when I am able to help them. They are not coming onto me, they just act that way. I do draw the line when people come up behind me and put both hands on my shoulders in a hard manner. Every manager who has ever done that has been a jerk for some odd reason. There have only been two. I use lady, man, chief, sir (drives northerners nuts), and boss man/lady.

  18. FrauTech*

    Is it suspicious that it’s only females writing in to say they are called kiddo? There are some older guys at work who call me that, but none are my boss and none refer to me by a nickname while in a conversation about business. That’s incredibly demeaning. But if it’s just casual “hi Kiddo” while you pass in the hallways, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    As for it being along the same lines as “sport” I dare you to start calling all the guys in your office that and see how they react. Calling someone there name is generally a sign of respect. Some nicknames can be respectful, but most are not. This one sounds endearing which is fine if it doesn’t cross over to your boss introducing you to other employees who may not understand the relationship and may take it to mean he doesn’t care enough to even mention you by name.

  19. Anonymous*

    I was in a similar situation. I just finished up my internship and my manager/mentor called me “kiddo” on several occasions. At first, I thought to myself, “What?! I am not a kid!” I am sort of like the OP and hate it when people use terms of endearment to me too. I found out later, my manager actually has a daughter the exact same age as me! But I didn’t really mind that he called me”kiddo” because we both got along well and he does respect my work too. Love the advice and true to the point, AAM!

  20. Charles*

    As long as you don’t mean to be disrespectful, call me anything you want; just don’t call me late for dinner ;)

    Seriously, if this is your only problem at work you have to darn good.

  21. Pingback: Engineering the Age Gap | Engineer Blogs

  22. Candace*

    I used to work with a guy (not my boss) who called me Kiddo. It bothered me because he was only 10 yrs older than me, and I know that he did know my name. I jokingly told him one day that he could only call me Kiddo if I could call him Old Man; he laughed and stopped calling me Kiddo.

    1. Laura L*

      That’s an awesome way to deal with that! I’ll keep it in mind in case it ever happens to me. (Now that I finally have a job again!)

  23. Old guy*

    Yikes–I am an old guy who works in an engineering and architectural firm and I confess that I have for years referred to coworkers – younger and older than I, as ‘kiddo.’ This was intentional, I thought it was a gender neutral, friendly, casual but not offensive nickname.

    Basing your opinion on whether the boss is being dismissive on how he otherwise treats you and reacts to your work is excellent advice.

    However, I am less sure of those who counsel you to toughen up and forget about it. If the name is truly offensive to you, it does not matter that I (as nice as I am) does not intend to demean or insult you. When dealing with emotionally stable adults, I beleive that the person insulted in the ultimate delineator of whether the comment or nickname is insulting. Just because there is no malicious intent does not mean that the comment is not insulting-it only means it was not intended to be.

    So, what to do about the use of kiddo if it continues to bother you? Were I the offending person, and I now fear I may have been, I would want you to calmly during a one-on-one conversation tell me that you are concerned that others might not feel I am taking you seriously because I refer to you as kiddo.

    I might be a little hurt or defensive at first, but, being an emotinoally stable adult, I would soon appreciate your candor and also appreciate that I was no longer accidentally insulting you.

  24. A*

    When I joined an office one of my new coworkers called me “munchkin”. I let it go three times, then told her flatly that I didn’t like the nickname and I would appreciate if she would use my name. It hasn’t been a problem since. Another coworker calls me “sparky”, and it doesn’t bother me nearly as much.
    I think it’s partly in the intent of the speaker, and partly in the ear of the listener. “Munchkin” is 31 years older than me, “Sparky” is more of a peer. “Munchkin” felt like an insult and “Sparky” just doesn’t feel that way. Anyway – just my two cents.

  25. Gravity*

    Is anyone not seeing the power imbalance? Imagine that the OP was the boss, the older individual was her employee, and she called him “gramps” or “grandpa.” Those are “terms of endearment” but most people would object to being called “grandpa” or “gramps” by an employee, even if that person meant no harm by using the terms.

    I’m sorry, but “kiddo” is not professional at all and if the OP doesn’t feel comfortable being called that, she has every right to bring that up (politely, of course). “Just going with the flow” and “getting over” issues is how problems don’t get solved and animosity builds. No, this isn’t “petty.” It’s about respect and if you respect someone, you should use the name that they prefer to be called.

  26. Gravity*

    So, if someone calls you “piece of shit” or “fucking idiot” or “nigger” or “faggot” at your workplace, you’re fine with that? Don’t be irrational, please. You have your limit as do all people.

    And by your logic, you shouldn’t complain about anything ever because there are always people out there who have bigger problems than you do. People have a right to voice their opinions, feelings, and questions and if you have nothing constructive to say, perhaps you shouldn’t say anything.

  27. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Look, I think most of us have agreed that it’s her prerogative to say something if she feels strongly about it.

    But it’s also worth considering intent and the general meaning of the word to most of society, before deciding if it’s worth bothering. This is not a particularly offensive term, and older people often use it as the equivalent of “buddy.” There’s no comparison between this and racial slurs!

    Not everything that rubs someone slightly the wrong way has to be made into an Issue. Sometimes it’s better for your quality of life to just relax about things. (Not racial slurs, obviously, but this isn’t anywhere approaching that. Not even in the same county.) Again, most people agree it’s her RIGHT to bring it up, but that doesn’t mean that she NEEDS to.

    1. Gravity*

      No offense, but I already mentioned that I kept the intent in mind. “Kiddo” is not the same as “buddy.” “Kiddo” is a term exclusively for a younger person while “buddy” can mean a person of any age. (And even then the term isn’t exactly professional)

      I agree that most people think that it is her right to speak up: my post was aimed at those who think she should “lighten up.” I’m sorry, but “kiddo” is a pretty ageist term in a workplace, in my opinion, and it is not professional regardless of what some older people may think. Again, many older people would not like to be called “gramps” which is an equally ageist term regardless of the intent behind the term. Please try to see the ageism in these terms because it’s there.

      Also, I was not comparing “kiddo” to racial slurs when I was responding to Charles (please read his post to understand the context). I was saying that everyone has names that they would prefer not to be called.

      Thank you for your response.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Older people actually do use “kiddo” to mean people their same age. Check out some old rat-pack type movies; you’ll hear it in there.

          1. Gravity*

            Forgot to add, if the OP is the only one being called “kiddo,” that *might* be ageist.

            Also, I thought your advice to the OP was great. Good day.

            1. ming on mongo*

              Just because something ”feels” a certain way to you, doesn’t mean it’s always intended that way. And folks have no ”right” to not being offended.

              So rather than feeling ”entitled”, politely and respectfully mentioning if something bothers you is fine. Though sometimes you need to weigh that action against the seriousness of the issue and the (quiet) judgments others may make in the process, about your own character (or lack thereof).

  28. Dude*

    I realize I’m pretty late to the party, but here’s my 2 cents.

    I would never give a nickname to someone I didn’t like. On the other hand, if I enjoy working with someone, I like the nickname game.

    If everyone at work calls you “Robert” or “Mr. Smith”, as opposed to Bob, Bobby, Bobbarino, the Bobbernator, or even Kiddo, it probably means you take yourself a bit too seriously, aren’t very approachable, and are just generally not “warm and fuzzy”.

    As long as your work is valued and you are taken seriously in your role, a nickname is a good thing. Just roll with it.


    p.s. whether you know it or not, people have a nickname for you. If you don’t know what it is, then you probably won’t like it :-)

    1. anoymous*

      hi my husband has just been told someone has just made a complaint, about him calling someone a youngster, and if they put it in writing he can get into big trouble, is this true.
      i can’t believe this?

  29. Rachel*

    He calls you kiddo because you probably act like look like a kid. But don’t take offense to this. When you’re older and wrinkled you’d wish you’re still a kid. People will start calling you madam.

    So stop acting like a kid, and just roll with the punches or you’ll never get out alive.

    Rock and roll. Go Browns, Go Bucks!!!!!!! Drowning Pool, Five Finger Death Punch, Three Days Grace, Hinder

  30. Anonymous*

    What if it is offensive and the intent to be condescending? How does one handle that. My daughter is constantly being called “little girl.” She is 22 and has been receiving accolades at work. She was most recently yelled at and called “little girl.” She walked away before she blew up in return.

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