7 things Millennials should not say to supervisors

Show you’re ready to take responsibility and dig in.
By Cheryl Meyer

Most CPAs, no matter their age, have said things they regret, either out of frustration or because they did not mull over their thoughts or articulate them properly. Some people also fall into bad habits, using certain words or phrases that are deemed less than professional. For instance, established leaders sometimes say the wrong thing to Millennials.

Millennials face even greater challenges. They have grown up in an era of instant contact, with emails and texts often taking precedence over phone calls or in-person encounters. As a result, they and other digital-leaning individuals may find themselves at times underprepared to pilot the nuances of certain tricky professional, in-person situations that arise in the workplace. When that happens, even the most well intentioned of us might sometimes say something too quickly or fail explain the true meaning behind our words.

Here are seven things Millennials and, for that matter, all employees, should avoid saying to their supervisors, and why:

  • "I don't want to do this. It really isn't going to help me." While most new CPAs expect to be handed a certain amount of grunt work, a declaration like this "does not help to grow and nurture trust," said Brian Wing, a senior vice president and CFO at global tax services firm Ryan, who has heard this statement. "It sends a message of self-focus, not one of growth and support of the organizational goals." Instead, say, "By when do you need this completed? I want to meet your expectations." In addition, you may want to ask how your particular contribution fits into the bigger picture of the firm and offer to add some analysis to improve the work product. "This type of interaction would absolutely increase standing by demonstrating a willingness to over-deliver and learn," Wing noted. 
  • "I deserve a promotion." This announcement sounds demanding, even if it was not intended that way, said Vicki Rich, a leadership, business, and career coach with Reach Next Level. Instead, say, "I really want to make a difference and am excited to get to the next step," she added.
  • "I'm unhappy in my current role." Saying this "doesn't help the manager fix the problem," noted Michael Chelena, CPA, a 26-year-old senior associate at RSM US LLP, an audit, tax, and consulting services firm focused on the middle market. Instead, he said, take time to settle in and learn the ropes. When you're ready, ask your supervisor, "Is there a new way I can be challenged at my job?"
  • "I need to leave early Friday for another commitment." Many firms offer flex time, but some young CPAs can be "too quick to tell what they need," Rich said. Instead, focus on what your supervisor and workplace need before you focus on your own wishes or wants. Make sure you get your work done first and foremost. "That's a way to build trust," she added.
  • "I can't work with this person anymore." This statement "comes across as negative or that you are not a team player, having trouble working with certain people," Chelena said. Instead, be positive, and ask a supervisor if there is a way for you and your colleague to work "more cohesively together," he added. That signifies a willingness to collaborate. 
  • "Look, you can find the file on the shared drive." Such a statement, if made when a manager asks his or her employee for a file or document, points to self-focus and lack of accountability, said Wing. "The reality is I wouldn't have asked for the file if I had it, and I'm pulled in 1,000 directions and I need some help." Instead, the young CPA should reply, "Sure, I'll send that to you right away."
  • "My mom wants to call you to talk about my review. Is this OK?" This one may seem ridiculous, but it is a real question that Wing has been asked. Sharing news with parents is fine, but involving mom and dad in professional discussions undermines the value and maturity of the employee, he said. Instead, he advised, ask politely, "Could you and I talk about my review? I want to make sure I understand the review and have a plan to exceed expectations."

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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