Surviving Work with a Younger Supervisor

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You show up to work one day like every other day, and discover that the rumors are true. The new nurse supervisor is young. And not just a year or two younger than you, she looks as if she has just graduated from nursing school and passed the Nursing Board Exam last week. As she is being introduced, you begin to feel awkward about her age and even wonder whether she is qualified for the job. Maybe it’s not so terrible, you think, she’s only ten years younger, but you see your fellow nursing assistants cringe. One of your colleagues is giving the young supervisor a sideways glance, as if he’s sizing her up, deciding that she's up to no good.

You’re probably asking yourself, "How do I deal with this?" This situation, where leaders are younger than those they lead, is not uncommon nowadays. If you find yourself in a similar situation wherein you are working with a younger supervisor, these helpful tips will save the day:

1. “Age is just a number.”

The better you understand this, the easier it will be for you to accept leadership coming from someone younger than you. Young nurse supervisors may have fewer years of clinical experience, but they have had more leadership training and can use their experience to gain insight into the challenges of the clinical arena.

Remember that they have undergone rigid screening and that they were put in this position because they have shown that they fit the role. Young nurse supervisors are life-long learners. They will have much to share and to teach the staff. Changing your mindset by removing age as a factor in a working relationship will let you carry on with your work comfortably.

2. The patients and their health outcomes are the priority . . .

. . . not who among the staff “knows more” or has “more experience.” In the end, the common goal must be to improve your patients’ health by working together as a team.

3. Being a leader does not mean that they do not need your help.

As a supervisor, whether younger or older, they will need their team's help and cooperation. As a CNA, you will need your supervisor’s help, too. Helping each other to achieve mutual goals is a win-win situation, so never hold back when you can help improve the organization and patient care.

When offering help, be authentic and genuinely concerned. Avoid being overly pushy with your ideas. Demonstrate your willingness to work with the younger supervisor so that others can see your behavior as an example.

4. Show due respect to the young supervisor.

Team members must show due respect to their supervisors, young or not, to maintain a healthy and productive working relationship.

5. Be ready to manage up.

“Managing up” means being the best employee you can be, giving the best value to the manager which, in the end, will benefit you as well. It’s another win-win situation where you are essentially helping your supervisor help you.

6. Say “no” to bullying.

Expect some push-back from your colleagues in the first few months as they wait for the young nurse supervisor to prove their worth. Do not tolerate bullying behaviors and be assertive in reminding others that teamwork makes the dream work, so to speak.

When CNAs report to a younger nurse supervisor, it may create an uncomfortable feeling because of stereotypes that dictate how a nurse supervisor should be. But if you put aside prejudices and focus on learning and improvement, you'll learn that age in inter-professional working relationships does not matter that much at all.

Try reviewing the course material on professional behaviors of the nursing assistant class from our course library.


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