my older employee keeps talking about my age

A reader writes:

I recently started a brand new position. They hired me as the department manager and also hired a project coordinator (my direct report). We have just completed our first week together.

I am in the awkward learning curve of trying to figure out my role along company policies, procedures and culture while trying to provide direction and support for project coordinator. It has become quickly obvious that my direct report has a major issue with my age (I would guess I am 20 years younger then her). She’s making comments like, “Gosh, it’s crazy to have a manager that is the same age as my daughter” or “This structure will be an adjustment for me, I am used to being in the driver’s seat. Good for you for advancing in your career so quickly.”

With the first comment, I was in complete shock. Who says anything to their manager about their age?! I have since used subtle humor tactics to divert / pivot from her age hang-ups, but they continue to sneak in. How should I proceed? It doesn’t help that we are both new and she obviously feels like we are on equal footing. For the record, I am not that young (37) nor do I look youthful (despite all of those expensive face creams).

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    Early on, her saying it’s an adjustment is not bad – it’s truthful.

    But if she keeps bring it up/can’t adjust, that’s a problem.

    1. Else*

      Maybe it’s truthful, but it is not a truth that should be spoken to her boss. She needs to self-censor and show some self control in this situation, and work out her angst somewhere away from the job. This kind of thing is an attempt (maybe unconscious) to push her boss into deferring to her in some way.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Agree–it’s a good thing to know about yourself on self-reflection so you can work on it… but it is not a good thing to say outright to your boss that you would prefer if they weren’t the boss of you which is what is implied when they say that. Or that’s certainly how I would interpret that.

  2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is the same thing as if someone is hung up on anything that’s irrelevant. Bring it to their attention that they seem to be dwelling on an insignificant thing and that you need to them stop bringing it up because now it’s becoming a distraction.

    I can understand the first couple times being a case of verbal diarrhea when in a situation she’s feeling awkward with. But after you get to know each other, hopefully that stops on its own, when she learns to just roll with it. I give most folks an adjustment period and a few “Freebies” at weird things to say until it establishes a pattern, that’s when I say “It’s weird that you keep bringing this up, I don’t like it. Let’s stop doing it.”

    1. joss*

      I noticed that this complaint was made after finishing just one week working together and suggest that it might be better to nip it in the bud be (i) acknowledging the age difference, and (ii) follow it up with saying something of along the lines of “but we’ll get used to it. Pretty soon we won’t even notice it anymore. Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill as that (to me at least) indicates that you have as much of a problem with the age difference as your direct report does.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, this is exactly my take. This has been going on for five days. Like… cut her a little slack here.

        Love your script suggestion.

  3. Blinx*

    Her comment about how she was used to being in the driver’s seat may be a clue. I wonder if she applied to be manager but was only offered coordinator.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        This is also something that needs to be address, directly. Both the symptom (comments about age) and the apparent problem (passed over). These are the type of people that will undermine projects if they’re let to believe they’re allowed to act like this. One or two comments, fine. Anything more than that is a grudge that needs to be handled head-on.

    1. LizzE*

      Yeah, that stuck out to me. Your question is a good one, but I also wonder if this is a similar situation to a letter we got last week — where a letter writer’s direct report (formerly in a supervisory role) claimed to be able to handle a role that was a step back from her previous one, but her actions showed her she really couldn’t. I wonder if this LW’s direct report is in a similar situation and is now uneasy about being in a coordinator-level role.

  4. Dwight Schrute*

    I could totally see my mom saying the first comment as a way to be like “ oh my goodness I’m getting old now that someone my daughter’s age can manage!” And not at all have an issue with it, but if it keeps coming up then I’d be more concerned that your report has an issue with being managed by someone younger and would address it then. Good luck OP

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yes! If her comments can be read as, “Boy, I’m really feeling my age” combined with, “Good for this smart, ambitious woman for getting to this point in her career,” why bend over backwards to interpret them as, “I don’t respect you because you’re super young and I’m planning to undermine you every chance I get”?

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yea, this is what I was going to comment. Until she knows the person better I am not sure I’d jump to it being malicious. It’s been a week, I would see if it goes somewhere before I approached it. But that’s me.

    2. JobHunter*

      What Dwight and Parenthetically said. An attitude like “I’m not about to take directions from someone young enough to be my kid” will become evident very quickly.

  5. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, was your coordinator interested in the role you were hired for?

    I was once hired for a role that I later learned one of my reports wanted. He was seething because he didn’t get it, but I didn’t know at the time. He made some digs about my age, too, and did whatever he could to ‘take the shine off the halo.’ His term, not mine.

    Had I known he interviewed for my role, I would have handled my intial meetings differently, acknowledging the elephant in the room. Even so, I was able to contain most of his hostility using a version of Alison’s scripts. He never was okay with me as his boss, but he did eventually keep quiet about it.

    1. PlainJane*

      I made sure to tell a new manager that I’d applied for her position (which I’d been doing for a while) and wasn’t even granted an interview, and apologize in advance if I seemed to occasionally grind my teeth. This worked in two ways–it told her what the situation was, and it also reminded *me* that she had nothing to do with the choice and it would be both unfair and stupid for me to be awful about it. As it turns out, she’s a better manager than I would have been.

  6. Anonymooose*

    Firstly, context is everything and it may very well be that she’s 100% surprised, even supportive of your position and is simply vocalizing out of a need to talk about something and to her, age is an interesting topic.

    But it’s also possible that she actually has a problem with it, resents your age and/or feels her own age (and extra experience/seniority) gives her some seniority that should put her on equal footing. Having been in this position (like…15 years ago); odds are she doesn’t like that you are younger and manage her and is passive-aggressively undermining you.

    She’s talking about you in relation to her daughter…her child. A relationship my, by most aspects, puts her in a more elevated, respected position. She’s mentioned that it will be an adjustment for her. She is used to being in the driver’s seat.

    All this points to resentment and, most importantly, someone who is focused on YOUR JOB and not HER JOB. Her feelings about your age, her adjustment to your job.

    That needs to end. Right now. She needs to be focusing on her job, her performance and, as she is newly hired, her first 90 days.

    You need to flip the dynamic from her talking about you and your job to both of you talking about her performance and her job. Establish your expectations for her professional performance, the tasks she needs to accomplish, and shut down any convo about her feelings on your age.

    Respond to her snarky comments like so:

    Let’s get back to these assignments on you plate, how are they coming along? Any questions?
    My age and your daughter …are not really related to getting this XYZ project launched, let’s plug through task 7,8,and9 shall wel?
    This is the type of report and level of detail we need…big story, critical points, and no minutiae. Please focus on highlighting facts that help us create a solution, ok?

    Do not engage the age discussion, talk to her about her job and then…make sure that you talk to yourself and your boss about your job, and your performance.

    Her issues about age need to remain firms HER problem and if she cannot handle it, it should reflect on her. There should never be any instance of her issues reflecting on you. But if you engage with her on the subject, specifically alter your conversations with her on your conversations with your boss because of YOUR AGE; you will loose credibility and now, it’s a general issue when really, it’s HER issue.

  7. AnotherAlison*

    Is it normal for a company to hire a department manager and her coordinator at the same time? It is not here. Why wouldn’t they have let the DM have a role in the hiring process? I know your manager is always subject to change, but if I was in the coordinator’s shoes, I would have had a hard time accepting the job without meeting my manager. That probably would have lessened this issue. She would have known what to expect. (I know it doesn’t solve the current problem.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s a new department from what it sounds like. The OP’s role was brand new, so was the coordinator. If they were in a pinch to get the department off the ground ASAP, I can see why they’d hire both at the same time. But it’s not common in my experience, you’d usually want the manager to come in and set up shop a bit first, then hire on a report soon after.

      I wouldn’t want a brand new manager in general, so that’d be a huge “nope” for me. But I have to guess that both of them knew the roles were newly formed, so it wasn’t a surprise.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        “you’d usually want the manager to come in and set up shop a bit first, then hire on a report soon after.”

        That’s what I was thinking. On day 1, the manager doesn’t even know what her tasks are, nm assigning something to someone else. It doesn’t allow her to establish her authority and probably doesn’t allow her to make her best impression with the older coordinator.

      2. Birdie*

        I work in a field that has notoriously slow hiring processes, and in a situation like that, they almost certainly would’ve hired for both roles at the same time because otherwise the manager would be on their own for quite a while. Personally, I wouldn’t apply for a job in those circumstances unless it looked like a dream job (and/or I was desperate) because I wouldn’t want to go into a role without knowing who I’d be working with most closely, but it’s definitely not a surprising thing to see in some fields.

        1. old curmudgeon*

          Don’t tell me, let me guess – government employee?

          The state agency for which I work is currently in the hiring process for a bunch of new staff AND for their new supervisors. In a few cases, the supervisors might get a couple weeks onboard before their new direct reports start, but most will start the same day their staff does. And in all cases, the staff hiring decisions are already finalized weeks before the supervisors start.

          No, it’s not ideal, not even close. But when you work for an entity that takes six months to grant permission to hire new staff in a disastrously undermanned area, you don’t dilly-dally around when the official okie-dokie finally comes down the pike.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I actually thought this seems strange, too, and I haven’t seen it happen in my experience.

      As I re-read the letter and some comments, I do wonder if this woman is trying to find something to talk to the new manager about (especially if they are a department of 2) and is awkwardly expressing that here. If the manager shuts it down too quickly or too abruptly will she tarnish a relationship over something the person doesn’t mean, or will she weed out someone that might not be a fit.

      It’s such a hard call, because there are a few dynamics at play here. Not just age.

  8. Working4theWeekend*

    “Good for you for advancing in your career so quickly“. Seriously?? You’re 37! That’s inappropriate. I’d say that’s a sign of professional jealousy. You’re somewhere she’s not or hasn’t been able to get to. And if it’s because she took a step down in her career taking this job, that’s on her not you. Good for you for advancing! For doing good work! And for getting recognized for it! “So quickly” is a slap in the face.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think part of this is the direct-report not realizing that the OP isn’t younger than their 37 years. Also as we get older, we fail to realize 37 is just 3 years away from when you’re legally protected by age discrimination. Oop.

      But it’s such a backhanded compliment, I’d have laughed if I were caught off guard by it. And a “This isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve been doing this a very long time.” comes out. Seriously, I’m 36 and been doing this for 18 years now. I’ve spent more time working than I did doing anything else in my life. Yeah “good for me”, right, lol.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yeah, the older people get the harder it is for them to differentiate between different kinds of “young”.
        Kind of like how a five year old might lump everyone 16-45 together as the same kind of “old”.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          And every age range has these kinds of spectrum.

          My dad is in his 70s and has those moments where he views everyone as “the youth”. He’s actually sweet about it, so it doesn’t get as much backlash as the “Damn kids” crowd. He’s the sort that says nonsense like “Such a nice young man!” and I’m like “Dude, he’s like 46, dad.” “46 isn’t old! He’s a nice young man.” *face desk*

          1. Emi.*

            This is adorable! When I was little I was super confused by my professor father referring to his students as “kids.” Now I’m four years out and when I see college students I’m like “aw, you absolute babies!”

          2. Gray Lady*

            My late mom, talking about my sister-in-law’s health problems when SIL was well past 50, “It’s a shame when someone has such problems so young.” And they were more typical middle age issues, not ones mostly associated with advanced age.

            1. FormerEmployee*

              I’ve read that when an eyewitness is an older person, the police tend to add about 10 years to the estimate the witness provides, as in a young man in his 20’s is probably a youngish man in his 30’s.

              There is nothing malicious about it, it’s just how things seem to work.

          3. Lwaxana Troi*

            I’m 70, and I constantly catch myself thinking of my 35 year old daughter and her 37 year old boyfriend as “the kids.” LOL. (Don’t worry, I don’t call them that out loud, just in my own head!)

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I also wondered if her daughter had a slower track career that colored her view of what a 37 year old at work should be doing. There’s no magic time to meet milestones. People start their careers at different times. People switch careers. Some take time away for family or other reasons. I had 16 years of professional experience at 37. Some people have 7 years exp. at that age. I’d hope I could manage a department at 37, although no one has offered me one yet at 42, lol.

    3. LAgal*

      Yeah, I agree with this commenter. I am 37 and I’ve been ganged up on with these type of comments lately by my 3 teammates, who are all one generation older. It is exhausting and makes me feel bad about myself, which I am sure is the goal.

  9. OperaArt*

    One of my colleagues was just promoted and became my new boss. He’s in his late 20s. I’m in my early 60s.

    I’m doing everything in my power to treat him like my boss…because he is. And on top of that I think he’ll do a good job. But I am never, ever going to bring up the age difference unless it’s relevant. And the only thing I can think of as relevant is whenever I decide to retire.

  10. CommanderBanana*


    I’ve been on the receiving end of comments like this and I hate it. I like the gray rock method for responding to repeated comments from people on the same topic that I don’t want to engage in.

  11. Aquawoman*

    I will say as an older person that it does sometimes surprise me that I’m an older person. Didn’t I just graduate from law school? Oops, no that was 30 years ago. I have a new employee who is barely older than my son, and there is an element of, Oh, wow, really? to it. That said, I do not voice that. Also, though, if they’re really 20 years apart, then the LW is probably older than the report’s daughter so there may be some misperception about the LW’s age.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Not everyone has kids at 30. Mine is 23, and I’m 42. I’m a professional engineer and have been in this career since I was 21. New grads are now the same age as my kid or younger, and I’m sure by the time I’m 60, one of them will manage me.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Half the women in my college class had babies in our 2nd year of college, so, yeah. I had mine “late” at 25.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I had this happen to me in my career as well. I started out and was a “baby” to my colleagues for the first decade in my career path. I was actually a little nervous when I started working with people within my age range, I’m sure it’ll be an adjustment and a mental moment for me when I have younger managers around as well! Noticing the aging process is normal for sure, it’s really all about how you speak about it to others.

      What I say to my partner, my parents and my friends are a million times different than what I’ll ever say to a colleague or former colleague. My mom notices her manager’s age difference [manager is my age] but it’s never something she’d say at work because she knows it’s not appropriate!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Happened in my first job too. I was surrounded by these middle-aged people with families and school-age kids. They did treat me like the baby of the team (in a good way). Now that I think of it, my middle-aged colleagues had all started at that job in the same year, ten years before me. I was 22, so they were all in their early 30s! Except our boss, who was five years older than they and was an ancient man in his late 30s. Now that I look back at all of this, it’s hilarious. Those 32-year-old kids (snort) seriously treated me like their child.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          In my situation, it wasn’t just a decade or so difference. Everyone really could have been my parental figure in each setup until the recent years! But they all loved that I wasn’t jaded like they were and loved watching me grow, like an actual baby in some ways, so awkward to explain that. Two women in their 40s & 50s taught me how to answer a phone and were howling when I got goosed the first try.

          Which is to say that both those women took it upon themselves to urge me to do great things, they never seemed to worry about me outgrowing them. Which isn’t always the case for so many people!

    3. SpellingBee*

      My “I guess I’m an older person” surprise came when I realized that I had coworkers who were years into their careers who had been born after I graduated from high school. Yikes! It didn’t bother me and I never brought it up, but it was a little bit of a jolt in the moment. I also do the thing where I’ll be talking about an event and say “oh, that happened 4 or 5 years ago,” then realize that no, it was more like 25 years ago.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Seriously, Jennifer Egan was right on when she named her novel about the passage of time A Visit From The Goon Squad, because that’s exactly what it feels like. Where did all that time go? How are my kids adults, with beards? I try not to think about it, it is what it is.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I feel this as I’m late 30s (and in a senior level role) but often get mistaken for age 22-26 or so and … well, I can be quite egotistical, self-confident and arrogant so it doesn’t happen so often these days, but sometimes I feel like people won’t take me seriously as a “senior professional” in my field due to looking young.

      The irony of that is that (conventional wisdom is) when you’re in your teens you put all your efforts into looking older so that you can get into bars etc where you have to be 21 but you’re only 17, but then when you get in your 30s you want to look younger. But in my late 30s I still want to look older in some scenarios. (Also just last week I got asked for ID, yet again, for buying alcohol when the law says you have to be 18 but the store’s policy is to ask for ID if the assistant thinks you are under 25.)

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I look really young as well, and this is an issue for me. I am probably the only woman I know who spent her entire 20s wishing time would move faster so I could turn 30 and be taken more seriously as a professional. But then after 30 I was chasing 40…because at 41 most people still guesstimate late 20s! It’s maddening sometimes. But I think what it boils down to is someone is always going to have more experience than I do, but for some reason it took me a long time to figure that out.

        In this scenario I can see a one-time shock of “man, how did this happen, isn’t my daughter still in diapers?” I’ve slipped a time or two about my age in relation to life (not work, but at work if that makes sense) but am immediately embarrassed. This woman seems to be going on about it.

      2. BonzaSonza*

        I’m in my late 30s, but I have good skin and soft features which make me look younger.
        It’s funny to see how shocked people are to find out I have three children, and even more so when I point out I was in my 30s for all of them.

        I haven’t dyed my hair in 9 months and have a solid amount of grey now. I am actually learning to love my grey hair and I feel it lends me more… (struggling to find the right word here: gravitas? Authority? Credibility?) at work.

        I am honestly looking forward to my 40s

        1. Elsie*

          I’m in my mid-30s and look like early 20s. I’m currently doing a post-doc (I started my PhD in my late 20s). Unfortunately the way I look combined with being in a fellowship role has led people to treat me as if I have no work experience or skills. It’s hindered my professional growth and I’ve had to constantly advocate for myself to be given appropriate work tasks that I can learn from and not be treated like a student intern. What a frustrating experience! It’s not necessary a blessing to look young

  12. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    We had a mini-problem like this at work. Lucinda, age 26, was annoyed at Fergus, age 25, for getting the job she applied for, even though he was younger than her.

    The hiring process for that job was incredibly long- it dragged on for six months and included a bad hire starting and being terminated really quickly-and Lucinda had applied long before Fergus did. Somewhere along the lines, someone told Lucinda they were looking for an older candidate with more experience, and that’s why she wasn’t being interviewed. They were trying to spare her feelings so she wouldn’t quit her existing job because we were short staffed, and did not phrase it well. She actually was not hired because she was unreliable and emotionally unstable and caused all sorts of interpersonal strife, and could not serve in a managerial role due to that.

    Is it possible that somewhere in the hiring process, someone sent a mixed message to said employee and she is under an incorrect assumption? Ex: that you are 25 not 37, that she was “too old” or “too young” for the job, etc.

      1. Metadata minion*

        That actually seems slightly less weird to me than it would be if they were older. Still petty and weird, but the difference between 3 years of experience in the job and 4 is a bit more meaningful than the difference between 13 and 14 years.

      2. JSPA*

        Point is, she’d been lied to, and told they were holding out for someone significantly older and more experienced than either of them. Their relative ages meant that it wasn’t true.

        IMO, no matter how volatile someone is, if they’re worth keeping, they’re worth treating with enough respect to not lie through your teeth at them.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        That seemed odd to me, until the part where they specifically told her they were looking for someone older with more experience. They definitely should not have lied to her like that and I think it’s reasonable to be upset if they tell you that and then turn around and hire someone a year younger.

  13. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    My hackles go up anytime I hear anyone expressing amazement that someone could be in X job despite that person’s (age, gender, race, country of origin, whatever). Unless my manager is a sentient cat, there’s nothing that can shock me about the person being who they are at their stage in life and also my manager. And having a younger manager is so… normal. First time I had a manager younger than myself was 21 years ago. First time I had a manager significantly younger than myself, was probably 9 or 10 years ago. It’s a part of getting older and having people younger than you enter the middle age, next stages in their career growth etc. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it whatsoever.

    1. FormerEmployee*

      I see age as being very different from gender, race, ethnicity, etc. None of those other aspects of a person say anything about their experience or education. If someone who appeared to be the age of a college student were a manager, I would wonder unless they were working at a fast food restaurant, the student store, or something similar. Project manager? Yes, I would wonder.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        PM is really not a leadership position, but I see what you mean. If we suddenly got a 22-year-old CEO fresh out of college, I’d wonder myself. But within reasonable limits* (which OP’s age certainly is), one’s experience and education could be anything. For all we know OP could’ve gotten her Masters at 23 and gone on to work in a leadership career track for the next 14 years, starting from the bottom and moving up every year or two.

        * I should’ve, of course, specified that the age would be within reasonable limits.

  14. SummerBee*

    I confess that I was guilty of this once with a peer, until she made it very clear how much it bothered her.

    I don’t have an excuse apart from the novelty of having someone as a peer who has such a large gap in age (I was coming up on 50 and she was 24; I found out in coversation that her mother was three days younger than me), which was a reminder of how old I was getting (because wouldn’t someone 26 years younger than me still be 4 years old?). I think I was operating under the assumption that “young” is always good, just like some people think “thin” or “tall” is always good and so it’s okay to constantly comment on it in a coworker.

    I’m glad she said something, and I learned that comments about someone’s young age are just as inappropriate as comments about someone’s advanced age. Thank you for this letter which will instruct others to avoid my mistake.

    1. CravingLemonMeringuePie*

      I could have written this. Which is why I appreciate the commenters who’ve pointed out that there may not have been malicious intent in both instances — just the employee being dense.

  15. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    I remember my engineer dad (in his mid 40s) coming home from work and chuckling about his new boss, who was probably 10 or 12 years younger. His boss was uncomfortable with having an employee so much older than him, and was pretty awkward about it – until he realised that my dad didn’t care (he’d worked as a consultant for years and wasn’t interested in the management track).

    This was probably 35 years ago, when people stayed at the same company for years, promotion was often based on tenure, and it was much less common to report to someone younger.

    I’m 50, and I’ve also stayed on a specialist track, so my managers are usually younger than me. Right now I work for a tiny consulting company owned by two 30 year olds. I really can’t say it bothers me. But at work I tend to keep my age to myself, because it seems to weird out other people.

    1. Batgirl*

      “This was probably 35 years ago, when people stayed at the same company for years, promotion was often based on tenure, and it was much less common to report to someone younger.”
      I’m betting that this is the type of set up the D.R. is familiar with and the culture shock is weirding her out.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think so many people lose track of the fact that a lot of people don’t want to be in management or to keep climbing ladders until the very end of their career.

      My dad worked a line job because all he wanted to do was stay busy, make money and spend his free time with his hobbies and family. He was pretty shocked when both his kids ended up in management, LOL. He’s proud of us but continues to say “I couldn’t have done that, how stressful! I just wanted to be able to feed you kids and take you camping!” [Neither of us had kids either, go figure.]

  16. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    “This structure will be an adjustment for me, I am used to being in the driver’s seat.”

    Aside from the age issue, I feel like OP’s report (Jane, let’s say) came in with the impression that they would be in the driver’s seat in this role, from this statement. Depending on company, co-ordinator can be anything from ‘assistant to someone a little more senior’ up to the equivalent of ‘Head Of’. Whether that’s just due to their ‘superior’ age, or to something they assumed or which was wrongly described about the role during the recruiting process – who can say.

    I say this because OP and Jane were recruited around the same time, by the same management, so clearly OP didn’t have any input in hiring her.

    I think that OP (or anyone in a similar situation as her) needs to assert their authority as soon as possible and quickly shut down any comments suggesting that the report sees them as peers or that they are equal in some way.

    The key to it is that you are both ‘new’ at the same time, so whilst you (OP) are having to figure out policies and procedures etc at the company, it must feel to Jane a similar way to when you have a team of new people recruited as part of the same ‘intake’ (as with some customer service positions for example) and as such, that you are both learning together.

    Depending on the tone those comments were said in – I think it could be passive aggressive in nature rather than just a wide eyed “gosh”. If OP is 37 and Jane is about 20 years older then surely this can’t be the first time Jane has had a manager significantly younger than her?!

    Despite the seemingly innocent remarks (‘guess I’m going to have a hard time adjusting’ sort of thing), under the surface this could well actually be a power struggle, and OP needs to get in ahead early.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      It’s entirely possible that Jane was bait-and-switched, too. Did the company lead Jane to believe she’d be the boss…and then she arrived to find out she wasn’t, but OP has no idea of that? And Jane is trying to suss out what happened?

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Yes, I didn’t quite make it explicit but I was thinking when I wrote that that Jane could have been bait and switched (“was wrongly described about the role during the recruiting process”) – potentially to get someone [ie Jane] with more experience or other needed qualities to take a “lower” role than they would have otherwise. And I expect OP would have no awareness of that.

        Btw, in my experience it’s always gone badly when a “manager and team” have been recruited together (even if the ‘team’ was only one person, as it seems in this case). For success it usually goes “recruit a manager with the carrot/cherry on the top that you can recruit and build your own team”.

    2. Batgirl*

      That’s actually something I would say to her:
      “This can’t be the first time (you’ve) had a manager who is younger”.
      It sometimes is the case that they havent. Some really old school companies promote everyone on a time served basis meaning that higher ups tend to be older, and take on a very paternal/village elder role.
      If she’s used to that, it’s worth making some “this is actually pretty normal” comments.

      1. Engineer Woman*

        I’d read differently into this and not in a positive way: “ This can’t be the first time (you’ve) had a manager who is younger” would say to me that my manager finds me incompetent to the degree I should have had many younger managers manage me over the course of my career. Now, I think the employee is not in the right to make her comments (nor frankly to think that managers can only be older than you), but the above from Batgirl would rub me the wrong way.

        1. Batgirl*

          That’s quite unusual to me. I don’t see anything incompetent about having had lots of young managers!

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          That seems like a very uncharitable read. It’s just pointing out how common of a thing it is, to counteract the way the employee is talking about it as if it is some totally new novel concept.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            And really the whole point is that the relative ages don’t mean anything with regards to anyone’s competence.

  17. Batgirl*

    The first comment “Gosh, it’s crazy to have a manager that is the same age as my daughter” isn’t so bad and could just be a brain fart.
    The other two …no. “This structure will be an adjustment for me, I am used to being in the driver’s seat. Good for you for advancing in your career so quickly” are pretty awkward and seem to be signalling that she needs her jealousy soothing that she hasn’t advanced or embarrassment that you may think she should have. I’d refuse to feed that and just do a quick disagreement until she quits.
    “No, it’s not crazy. Pretty average manager’s age.”
    “Nope, it wasn’t quick”.
    “It’s not really an adjustment to have a manager”
    “Driving seat? I’m fine with you taking the lead on x and y, so long as you check in with me on z/in much the same way as your last manager”.
    If that doesn’t do it add *extremely puzzled look* and query.
    “References to my age are pretty inappropriate. What’s going on?”

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      “[…] Good for you for advancing in your career so quickly” [is] pretty awkward and seem to be signalling that she needs her jealousy soothing that she hasn’t advanced or embarrassment that you may think she should have”

      It could be, or it could be that she has a more ‘traditional’ / ‘old-skool’ view that of course you rise up the ranks as you get older and generally your manager is older than you and your team are younger than you … everyone is on a path upwards as they get older …

      NB I’m not saying that she must have a ‘traditional’ viewpoint just because she’s ‘older’, of course, before anyone jumps on me! Many people, even in today’s age-agnostic world, still seem to have beliefs like this even when they are in their 20s!

      1. Batgirl*

        No I agree. I think the awkwardness stems from just such a culture and believing that having a young manager is embarrassing and that her embarrassment needs soothing.

  18. Morning reader*

    I would be tempted to respond to such remarks with, “I wanted to beat Kirk’s record to make captain before age 34.” Does that date me?

  19. AKchic*

    “You keep bringing this up, is this going to be a problem for you?” Don’t break eye contact. Make your report give a definitive answer one way or the other. If they say it will be a problem, thank them for their honesty and tell them that you will discuss it with management to see if there is another position they can transfer to. If they say it won’t be a problem, tell them that you’re glad you won’t have to hear about it anymore, because age isn’t a factor for these positions.

  20. bleh*

    Yeah, this sounds like someone who would complain about something else if you were the same age because she wanted the job herself.

    Alternately, I’ve worked with someone who mentioned her own age constantly. “Well, since I’m the youngest faculty member…” or “Since I’m closest in age to the students…” It was exhausting, and one got embarrassed for her.

  21. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    I worked for a tech company part time after school for a few years. It was great that the school district paid for my cisco training even though I never got to teach cisco to high school students. I would switch into units depending on need and had a variety of supervisors. I met a new supervisor who was at least 10 years younger than I was and met the team that were all 10 years younger than I was. I smiled at them and told them in a teacher like style, don’t think you know more than I do because I am old. It turned out to be the best unit I worked with.

  22. Liz*

    As a worker about the same age as the subordinate in this scenario (57-ish), I’d like to say it is 100% OK to nip this ageist baloney (on the part of the subordinate) in the bud, and to be as firm, direct, and blunt as needed. Being “of a certain age” is no excuse for a lack of professionalism, and older workers who feel free to make unprofessional comments to younger workers (in any role: supervisor, peer, subordinate) make it harder for the rest of us older workers to be integrated into the workplace.

    The reality is: at my age, it will be very common for me to be supervised by, and work alongside, much younger folks. And that is a good thing! There’s no need for my ego to flare up about it — keeping an open mind, being curious about what the younger gen brings to the table, and being humble and willing to learn from, and support, everyone in the team, is the “mature” (in all senses of the word) way to be.

  23. FormerEmployee*

    The OP said they are 37 and the other woman is about 20 years older. Does she really have a 37 old daughter? I think it would be funny (yet not surprising) if it turned out that the woman’s daughter is actually closer to 27. Then, the OP and her report could have a good laugh and move on.

    Besides, it’s only been a week.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think it might be one of those situations where the older woman is thinking ‘Gosh OP looks about my daughter’s age!’ and doesn’t realise OP is actually nearly 40. I’m really not a fan of talking about age in the workplace, but maybe a well-placed ‘I’m 37, you know’ might stop the age comments!

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