I'm a Gen Z worker and I'm not getting along with my new boss. What should I do?
- Insider's latest work-advice column is about a Gen Zer who's not getting along her new manager.
- Experts advise she "manage up," by adapting to her new boss's preferences and communication style.
I'm relatively new to the workforce — I've been at my first full-time job after college for eight months — and lately I find myself feeling lost and adrift. The reason has to do with the fact that my boss, a guy I really liked and admired, recently left the company.
When he first told me and the team he was leaving, I wasn't too concerned. I knew I'd get assigned a new boss, and I figured it was a good opportunity to get to know another manager at my company, learn a different boss's style, and get exposed to new and different things at my company. That's happened, but it's not at all been positive.
I like my new boss fine as a person, but as my manager, I miss my old boss. He took being my first boss seriously. He cared about my career growth and took the time to teach me how to do things the right way. Maybe he was a little hand-holdy, but in retrospect, I learned a lot.
Now the training wheels are off. My new boss doesn't have that much time for me, doesn't ask me about my progress or professional aspirations, and while we get along OK, we don't have much of a personal connection.
I realize my old boss is not coming back, but my new setup still feels temporary. I need to adjust — and soon. What can I do?
Consider yourself lucky: You had a great first boss — one who treated you with respect, supported you, and invested in your development. You won't always be as fortunate. Over the course of your career you're going to have lots of different bosses. Some will be terrific leaders whom you click with immediately. Some will be just so-so or take a little getting used to. Others will be tedious or indecisive or incompetent or micromanage you — well, you get the drift.
The point is, the boss-employee relationship, like all relationships, can be fraught.
But you're not powerless to change the dynamic. Kyle Elliot, a career coach in California, recommends you "manage up," which is essentially business speak for cultivating a productive rapport with your boss by adapting to her preferences and earning her trust. Done well, managing up will make your and your boss's work lives easier, not to mention improve your chances of getting recognition, raises, and promotions.
At your next one-on-one, Elliot suggests asking your new boss a series of open-ended questions like, How do you want to communicate with me? How should we check in with each other? What's your process for assigning projects? How do you like to collaborate? Your new boss is likely to ask you these questions too if she has even an iota of emotional intelligence, he said. "But if she doesn't, you need to volunteer the information."
Be direct, but gracious. "Say, 'I like to check in every day. Will that work for you?' Or, 'Something that my last boss did that was helpful was XYZ, how do you feel about doing that?'" he said.
Nip small problems early so they don't swell into bigger issues later. You say, for instance, that your new boss seems like she doesn't have time for you. Try to pinpoint the specific habit or behavior you want to address. Is it that she's unresponsive to emails? Unwilling to guide you on assignments? Or is she somehow impeding your workflow?
Don't go to her with demands; rather, share your observations and present her with options, ideas, and solutions. Elliot advises saying something like, "I notice there's a bottleneck here. Would it be helpful for me to send a short daily summary email or status report? Or should we do a quick call to check in each morning?"
"It strokes a boss's ego when you ask them questions, but they get to make the final decision. It makes them feel powerful," he said.
As for your new boss not caring about your career development, I urge you not to take it personally. In a perfect world, your boss would foster your brilliance, encourage your ambitions, and tee you up for development opportunities. But in the real world, bosses are busy and your aspirations are apt to slip their list of priorities. Try to find other mentors, colleagues, and even peers who will support your goals and offer you perspective and ideas. Work on building relationships up and down and across your organization so you'll be top of mind for exciting new projects and jobs.
Finally, be patient — both with your new boss and yourself. Recognize that it's going to take some time to get acquainted with each other, Sunni Lampasso, a psychologist and executive coach based in New York, said.
She recommends making a concerted effort to get to know your new boss. Suggest a standing lunch date if you work in person; if not, opt for a virtual coffee. Find out what she likes to do in her spare time and bond over common interests. Reveal as much or little about yourself as you're comfortable doing, she said.
But don't force anything. "Right now, you're adjusting to the loss of your old boss," she said. "It's not a death and it's not a breakup, but there are similarities. So be kind to yourself. Don't get upset that you're upset. It's going to take time to accept that this is the way things are now."
This story originally published on October 17, 2022.
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