Like mother, like manager? Dealing with unwanted parenting at work


I am young and what’s even better (in some cases) is that I look younger. However, I haven’t found this works to my advantage lately in the working-life arena. I was fine in high school when my supervisors took a little more care to me. I think I needed that then.

But now, like adolescent awkwardness, I do not feel comfortable with it at all. It’s not uncommon for baby boomer employers and colleagues to have Gen Y children of a similar age to ourselves. In some cases, an employer or older colleague may become a mentor, but mentoring you in a parental way can be both beneficial and detrimental.

How it works to your advantage

Like a good parent, your employer is looking out for you and ensuring you are given opportunities to progress professionally. This means your employer will bring skills you can improve in to your attention and encourage professional development by registering you for courses.

Furthermore, when you feel it is time to leave the organization this individual will send you off with all their resources, support, and encouragement, along with great references to help you secure the next chapter of your life. This is called mentoring.

Mother, mother I want another

In other cases, an employer can develop a Work Parent approach to your employee-employer relationship. Such a relationship can manifest in ways such as, decreased professional development opportunities or increased assignment to unchallenging tasks. This is detrimental to both parties as it affects your productivity and ability to perform better, and you end up contributing less to the organization.

Set clear boundaries

Work is a place to be both social and productive, however perhaps the Work Parent is smothering you at work because he or she knows too much about your social or home life. Removing such topics of conversation and clearly defining work versus social life will steer clear of potential parenting situations at work.

If it gets out of hand, have a private conversation with the individual who is “parenting” you at work. Opening such dialogue will be sensitive, ensure that you both meet in a neutral environment and gently bring up the subject as something which is affecting both of you and your ability to work.

Draw attention to the situation in general at first because they may be unaware they are affecting your professional development and performance. If the outcome of the conversation is not what you’d hoped, a grace period where both parties agree to adjust their performances accordingly might be in order.

If the unwanted parenting persists further, approach the Work Parent for another meeting and perhaps involve a mutual third-party. If this is not an option, than perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your place within the organization and consider other options. Although leaving can be scary, it could actually be beneficial at your next job interview since you would be able to talk about how you dealt with a serious personnel issue.

Has anyone else navigated this tricky situation before? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it as well.

About the author

Michelle C. Chan is a recent biological sciences and women's studies graduate from the University of Alberta. She's interested in medicine, specifically pursuing a career within women's health: obstetrics and gynecology. Her academic focuses have included microbiology, women studies, and immunology and infection. She has previous experience with community non-profits, academic research, project management and event planning. You can find her here