Things NEVER to Say to Older Coworkers

From inquiring about age to asking if someone has had cosmetic surgery, there are some things you shouldn't say to older colleagues. Here's how to avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not always the most sensitive when it comes to older colleagues. I’ve been known to deem certain terms archaic or walk up to the COO of the company and ask “How’s it hanging?” I even told one of my coworkers I was too young to know any Bruce Springsteen songs (not a wise move for someone who works in New Jersey). Whatever the faux pas, one thing is clear: Millennials and baby boomers have their fair share of differences, with communication styles at the top of that list. But with the economy still black-and-blue, they’re inevitably going to have to work together. (Click here to read “Things NOT Say to Younger Coworkers.”)

Here’s a short list of things you should never say to an older colleague:

“I didn’t know you were so old.”

Expressing shock when someone reveals his or her age is not the best way to establish rapport with your older colleagues. Age a sensitive topic, for varying reasons, and you may send a message that’s counter to your intent. Before you gasp or wrinkle your nose, take a step back and think about your intention. If you’re implying the person looks good for his or her age, simply offer the compliment.

“Have you had work done?”

This question is equally offensive across gender and age lines, says Stuart Arnold, chief operating officer at DiversityInc. “[It’s] offensive whether you are 25 or 55,” says Arnold. “It implies a person should look a certain way because of his or her age and can be especially damaging for someone who is self-conscious about age.”

“Do you know how to use Excel?”

Contrary to popular belief, older workers are not as a technologically “unplugged” as many people think. In fact, older workers have been using computers (or some form of them) for the past 20 years. “This question implies that older workers are not up-to-date on technological advancements,” says Arnold.


  • Stephen Blythe

    ” In fact, older workers have been using computers (or some form of them) for the past 20 years.”

    WOW! I don’t mean to be ageist. but just how YOUNG is the author of this article??? SOME of us “OLDER workers” have been using computers for the past 45 YEARS! I, for example, started writing programs in machine language for our trust PDP-8 in 1970. 64KB of memory – what a machine! Punch cards, dot-matrix printer, and a hard disc drive the size of a washing machine… I have been using e-mail and designing web sites for more than 20 years! Geeze!

  • How about, “You look good for your age?” What were you expecting?!! This is what [insert age] looks like?
    Hello young lady, when clearly you’re a seasoned citizen.

  • I have a supervisor that usually says thanks and/ or hello sweetie, honey, dear, etc., It got to the point that a women on the fast track to upper management (they are friends and Mary gives “her “VIP treatment). Now I’ve noticed that this soon to be supervisor is referring to other female co-workers as hon, honey, dear, sweetie, etc., WTF. A few weeks ago I told this soon to be new boss not to call me sweetie, dear, hon, honey, you can call me Kathleen. She failed to say she was sorry and simply said, “Ok” and immediately turned around and walked away. However, now she doesn’t even acknowledge me. WTF you tell someone that they are doing something to you that you don’t like and YOU END UP BEING A B. And yet, when THEY are doing the things that are not cool and not professional that is ok. What Gives:?

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