Paternal treatment at work

In the comments under this post, dearieme talks about his former bosses:

A couple of bosses were good at directing and encouraging me, one turned out to be a crook and probably going out of his mind, several others just gave me my head. One largely neglected me; he reckoned, I suspect, that if nobody complained I must be doing a good job so he’d put his effort into coping with those who seemed to be a problem. One was scared of me because I was far cleverer than he was.

I’ve had a variety of bosses ranging from very good indeed to people I’d happily see set on fire and shoved under a bus, with plenty in between. But I’m not going to write about them.

Instead, I’ll write about something dearieme’s comments jogged in my memory. There are few advantages of growing old and your hair turning grey, but nevertheless there are some. One is that, past a certain age, people you encounter in your professional life stop trying to be your fucking dad.

I think we’ve all experienced this. You turn up in a new organisation as a relative youngster and some middle-aged bloke introduces himself and starts coming out with lines such as “You have a lot to learn, and somebody like me can show you how things are done” or “If you stick by me I can take you places”. Such statements are always unsolicited and offered soon after your arrival before you can get wind of what everyone else thinks of him. Inevitably, the bloke in question is useless and everyone knows it, hence he must target newcomers if he is to get respect from anyone.

I saw a fair bit of this in my younger days and found it creepy, condescending, awkward, and sad. The language is always paternal, implying a relationship where I will admire him as some sort of mentor and life guru. I always imagined these guys have sons of their own who think their dad is a complete wanker and so they desperately try to gain adoration elsewhere. I even had a recruiter try it once, probably thinking my character was a lot more soft and pleasant than it is. He actually used the phrase “My job is to find young men who need some guidance, and put an arm around them.” He turned out to be about as useful as tits on a fish.

Thankfully this all stopped some years back. I don’t know whether it was my age or it was an Anglo-Saxon thing that the French don’t go in for, but I’m glad because it annoyed the hell out of me. I even had to tell one chap “Thanks, but I have a dad already and I don’t need another”.

None of this is to say that the old dog growling in the corner of the office with 30 plus years of experience under his belt isn’t worth talking to or having as a mentor. I’ve had that before and it’s great. I’m talking about the useless old farts who seek to address personal issues by attempting to create disciples out of unwary youngsters in the office. I’d be curious to know how common this is outside of my own industry.

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8 thoughts on “Paternal treatment at work

  1. Good post, and interesting points.

    Not my experience, at all- but my trade isn’t technical: I suspect that the greybeards you refer to are threatened by bright young things coming out of uni with latest and greatest training, and they haven’t stayed current.

    As such, they seek to build a clique for protection, and to benefit from the expertise of the young.

    The best bosses I’ve had are ones who know their limits, and who instead of hiring non threatening folk, hire people who have skills that they lack.

    To paraphrase Jobs- why would you hire someone dumber than you?

    (my current boss is perhaps the best I’ve ever had)

  2. I cant recall any of that kind of stuff when I was younger, had a few folk yell at me and had some experienced guys go out of their way to help me, that is a great thing and something that I have tried to do in my workplace with others but that is about all that I can remember. Anyhow and kind of related I am pretty chuffed that my oldest son has started in a new job yesterday.

    And dearieme would bash you up as soon as look at you, he is a bouncer type.

  3. And dearieme would bash you up as soon as look at you, he is a bouncer type.

    Oh, he’s an out-and-out thug for sure. Scottish, you see. I’d not be surprised if he did boxing when he was a 12-year old in shorts and used the skills learned to keep discipline in his lab in later life.

  4. I once had a boss who moaned he was fated to be second at everything he did. Second captain of the school cricket team, second in line for this and that as his working life progressed and just about second best at pretty much everything.

    He was a prat and I really enjoyed telling him, as we parted ways, he was the second worst boss I had ever had.

  5. Can say I experienced that TBH
    Maybe it was my countenance and demeanor put off that personality type.
    Or possibly a honed nose for BS artistes.

    Let’s just say I was rather more direct back in the day.

    Had one or two great mentors though, who thought me to listen, digest and suggest.

  6. Slightly off topic but that is one of my pet peeves about gyms, there`s always some guy who`s not in especially good shape who will corner newcomers and lecture/patronise them about how their technique/posture/number of reps is all wrong and should copy his example, which usually means 2 minutes actually lifting something and 10 minutes drinking water and looking at himself in the mirror.

  7. Slightly off topic but that is one of my pet peeves about gyms

    Heh! I can imagine that. Fortunately that doesn’t happen in the one I go to in Paris, but that might also be a French thing.

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