Thursday, August 1, 2013

Know When Your Boss Crosses the Line

I read an interesting article on Forbes.com the other day Six Lines Your Boss Should Never Cross. It outlined 6 "lines" that a boss should never cross in dealing with employees. I thought I’d expand a little on those six, and add a few.

There is a line between professionalism and unacceptable behavior. If your boss has done one or more of these things with regularity, then it’s time to speak up. But employees need to understand what is acceptable and what is not, and on the flip side, what they should or shouldn’t do, as well.

1. Your boss makes references to your salary in front of other staff.  
It’s not appropriate for your manager or supervisor to reveal, or reference what you are paid in front of others. However, if YOU choose to discuss with your co-workers what you make, that’s fine. Just remember, if or when you find out someone is making more than you are, you can’t assume it’s not fair. You don’t know all the information that was considered when deciding a pay rate for any particular employee. We consider many things, and your circumstances are most likely not the same as someone else’s.

2. Your boss reprimands you in front of other employees.  This is never acceptable or appropriate. Reprimands, discipline, correction, whatever you want to call it, should be handled in private. However, telling you to get back to work, reminding you of a task that needs to be completed or giving you instruction on what to do, or how to do it, is not reprimanding. Of course, how something is said is often as important as what is said.

3. Your boss has unreasonable expectations.  As the article noted above states, "This one is tricky, as it may be difficult to determine whether the boss's expectations are unfair. The bottom line is that managers need to communicate their expectations for work performance clearly, they should assist employees when needed, and set reasonable deadlines for projects." I hesitate to include this one since it is so easy to interpret incorrectly. However, if asked to do something, you should never respond "that’s not my job". In many cases, your job is to do what’s asked of you. So even if you’re assigned a task that you don’t feel is your job, you should refrain from saying so. In fact, often expectations are not unreasonable, but are seen as setting the bar high with the hope it will motivate and challenge, and therefore develop, staff. In any case, refusing to do something your boss has asked of you is rarely a good idea (unless we’re talking about something illegal).

4. Your boss shares too many personal details. 
This goes both ways. Sometimes, a manager or supervisor will share details of a personal nature as a way to develop camaraderie or seem more approachable. However, this will erode her ability to supervise her staff, and often result in a lack of respect. Furthermore, employees shouldn’t be oversharing, either. This is a good time to remind people that supervisors and their staff really shouldn’t be Facebook friends. That kind of intimacy and sharing is a distraction and an impediment to a healthy work relationship.

5. Your boss gossips about others or breaks another employee’s confidence.   If your boss is breaking a confidence of another employee, or gossiping about another employee, this is unprofessional and unacceptable. No one, employee or boss, should be gossiping at work; this isn’t high school.

6. Your boss makes inappropriate references. 
Comments or questions about sex or of an intimate personal nature in any context are inappropriate. This includes jokes and emails, or comments about your physical appearance. Also, any type of implication that the boss is interested in a relationship of a personal (intimate) nature is completely inappropriate and off limits. Employees should not be pursuing such a relationship with a supervisor or manager either. These types of relationships never end well. It could also be a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

7. Your boss is abusive.    Does your boss drag you into his/her office (or out in front of others) to scream at and berate you when you make a mistake or call you names? There is no room for abusive behavior in the workplace--everyone should be treated with respect. This also goes both ways. There is no excuse to speak rudely to your supervisor or manager. If you feel your boss is out of line, you can, and should, speak with someone else about it; whether that’s HR or your boss’s boss.

8. Your boss implies that sex, race, age or religion is a factor in work performance, promotion opportunities, etc.   None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do the job, and the suggestion that it might is probably discriminatory. You should address this immediately with HR, or another member of management with whom you’re comfortable.

9. Your boss violates company policy.   It’s rare that there would be a policy that you have to follow, but your boss doesn’t (it happens, but is relatively rare). If you see this regularly, speak up. There are reasons for policies, rules and regulations. By the same token, don’t bristle if you are spoken to about a policy violation. You may not like the policy, or think it’s important, but it didn’t get put into place because it was unimportant.


If you're experiencing one or more of these situations frequently, it’s time to speak up. It’s not easy, I know, but it's necessary for a healthy working environment. Calmly discuss the issues; don’t be defensive, and don’t respond in kind. If things don’t change, or you’re not comfortable approaching your boss about these issues, then consider going up the chain of command or to HR for help.

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