Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Talking to the boss

Hello Polite Readers!

I've been asked to talk about standing up to your boss. I had to mull it over for a couple of weeks because I'm not really a normal day job kind of person, and as such, I don't have a lot of experience dealing with bosses. When my husband has an issue at work, I'll say "Well you should tell your boss this and this" and he'll mutter something about how I obviously don't know how business works. Apparently managers don't respond well to my natural snark, so let's go into Politely Worded Mode.

First, decide if the issue is worth making a stand about. If you feel like the boss's current policies are going to cost the business money, or if it's an issue of personal safety (physical or emotional) then you should definitely bring it up. But if you want to complain that your boss's collection of Precious Moments figurines is tacky and makes the office look unprofessional to potential new hires, that's probably not worth the hassle.

If you're pretty sure it's a serious matter, then discuss it with one or two close friends and make sure they agree that it's a big deal and get their opinion on valid points that you can bring up in your argument. For instance, if you have to leave the store at night down an unlit flight of stairs, be sure to bring up employee safety and how if you did fall and break your arm, you'd have to be out on disability until you healed, and then who would do your job?

If it's something that is affecting multiple employees (let's stick with the dangerous staircase above), talk with the rest of them too and get their feelings. Have any of them had a close brush with falling? Have customers noticed and complained? Choose one employee to be the spokesperson (we'll assume it's you) but get permission to mention the others by name.

Before you go to the boss, do a little research or soul-searching on the ideal solution to the problem. For instance, look into the cost of installing a light. Get the name of a good contractor who can do the work. In the case of a less physical, more emotional issue, such as being bullied or forced to work unpaid overtime, decide what you need to have changed to feel comfortable at work.

Now, choose a good time to bring it up. You don't want to start berating your boss during a big rush of customers, nor do you want to start the day off on the wrong foot, nor do you want to start something at the end of the day when you have a pressing appointment right after work. If there's never a convenient time at work, you may need to write an e-mail instead.

Finally, the hard part. Use my favorite firm-but-polite attitude to confront your manager. Stick to the facts and the proposed solution. Continuing with the dangerous staircase scenario, you might say something like this:
Thanks for taking the time to have this meeting with me! I wanted to let you know that we're all really concerned about the back staircase. It's unlit, and those of us who work the closing shift have had a few bad scares on it. Did you know that last week Jane slipped on an icy stair and fell down? Luckily she only had bruises, but if one of us tripped at the top we could break something and possibly be unable to work! I know you prefer us to lock up the front and then go out the back, so for our safety I think it would be best to install a light back there. I did a little poking around on-line and I think it would only cost the company about $xx to put up a fixture. Is that possible?
Now be open to the boss suggesting other possibilities. It may be that the lease doesn't allow any changes to be made to the building, or that there's no money in the budget for improvements. The boss may suggest keeping flash lights by the back door instead. You might suggest being allowed to go out the front at closing. It may take a bit of negotiation to come to an ideal situation.

Keep in mind that no matter how polite and well thought out your argument is, the boss might just say no. Some don't like to be questioned or given suggestions on what to do. At this point you will have to decide whether you can come up with your own work-around (carry a flash light in your purse), take it up the food chain (assuming your boss isn't the owner/CEO/top of the line), pursue legal recourse (is it an OSHA violation?), suck it up (well, you haven't broken your neck yet, after all), or start looking for a job with a better situation and a better boss.

I hope you can adapt this hypothetical situation to whatever real boss-problems you may have. If any of my readers have a specific workplace situation that needs addressing, feel free to e-mail me at and you may be the subject of my next column!


  1. An important thing to note, if you're talking a violation, such as a safety hazard (OSHA), or not getting you your W2s on time (Federal), sometimes companies are unaware of the violations.. they do, however, take them seriously. Mention it, but don't come across as threatening them if you can at all avoid it though.

    Bosses take very poorly to anything they perceive as a threat.

    1. Good advice, Zolgar! It probably is best to assume (especially if you work for a small and/or recently formed business) that your boss may not even be aware of the problem.