‘You’re the Best Boss I’ve Ever Had’ and Other Lies We Tell to Keep the Job

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Last year I wrote about the lies we tell to get the job in the first place, including ‘I’m passionate about spreadsheets’, ‘I like washing everyone else’s dishes’ and ‘I’m happy to work overtime without being compensated for it’. So you’ve successfully lied your way into the job and you think maybe now you might be able to stop telling mistruths and have someone appreciate you for being honest.

Yeah, right. Instead, you’re more likely to find yourself continuing to lie in order to keep the job. Here’s a few I’ve heard (and perhaps a few I’ve used) over the course of my working life.

Lie #1: ‘You’re the best boss I’ve ever had.’
What it really means: All my other bosses before you were really terrible whereas you’re just mediocre.

Take note, bosses. Hearing this lie isn’t a cue to slack off. It’s a cue to try even harder (or just to try if you’re not trying at all) to make sure this becomes true and remains so regardless of how many other bosses your employee may have in the future. Set the bar high.

Lie #2: ‘Thanks for taking an interest in my personal life.’
What it really means: Knowing about and periodically asking superficial questions regarding the state of my relationship with my partner/children/cats/netball team/customers of my tarot card reading side business doesn’t make us friends.

Genuine friendships at work can and do exist. Knowing that a fellow employee has a partner/children/cats/netball team/a tarot card reading side business and periodically enquiring about the one thing you know about them does not, however, equate to a genuine friendship. And attempts to keep up the pretence of being interested in a colleague’s personal life are generally genuinely awkward.

It’s okay to be just a co-worker.

Lie #3: ‘I appreciate being invited to work functions outside of business hours.’
What it really means: How long do I have to stay?

The work/life balance seems to be getting more and more out of whack. And the more time employees have to spend working after hours without being paid, regardless of how that work is camouflaged as something else, the more they are likely to eventually resent their jobs. Unpaid work functions should be limited to one or two a year, such as a Christmas party. And honestly, I can’t even think of a reason apart from Christmas to hold another unpaid work function, which says enough it itself.

Lie #4: ‘I love receiving feedback on my performance.’
What it really means: I don’t even remember doing half the things I’m receiving feedback on. And by the way, when is it my turn to give feedback on your performance? What, never, you say? Shocking.

Performance feedback is an opportunity for recognition and the identification of development activities but it can often be like riding a rollercoaster over a minefield as bosses cram in one part praise to three parts unconstructive criticism and reminders of things gone or done wrong over the course of a year into a one hour window.

I was once told by a co-worker in my department who my boss loved and who I suspected was simply passing on a message from my boss that to get ahead, I should come to work earlier. Not work harder, not work smarter, not take on additional tasks, just show up earlier. When I asked why, I was told it was a perception issue. I shouldn’t worry about achieving more, he told me, I should just make sure people think that’s what is happening. Seriously?

Lie #5: ‘I love receiving feedback on my performance from people outside of my team.’
What it really means: Who was that?

It’s one thing to receive (hopefully) constructive criticism from your boss, your boss’s deputy and the team members you work with on a daily basis. But opinions given without being requested from people you aren’t even sure know what your job is and would be able to find Wally (or Waldo, depending on where you are reading this) in a candy cane factory quicker than they could find your last name on the company intranet is usually unnecessary and unhelpful.

If you’re breaching company policies, that’s what the Human Resources department are for. If someone outside your team thinks you aren’t doing your job the way you should be, that’s what bosses are for. They can receive the comments, investigate their accuracy by involving you in a discussion, and either counsel you for future improvement (in the case where there is room for it) or banish the accuser with a swift reprimand (where the comments are unjustified).

Either way, there is a time, a place and a person for everything. And when on the receiving end of this kind of feedback, it should be completely acceptable to simply say, ‘I prefer to receive this kind of feedback from my direct supervisor. Please feel free to address your concerns to them for their assessment. If I don’t hear anything further from my direct supervisor, I’ll assume that’s the end of the matter.’ Alas, I don’t think I’ve ever heard or summoned the courage myself to say anything of the sort. Which is a shame.

Lie #6: ‘I understand completely that there are no funds to hire some extra help.’
What it really means: There might be some funds freed up shortly when I can’t take being overworked any longer and quit.

Lie #7: ‘Travelling for work is a great perk.’
What it really means: I just wish my partner/children/cats/netball team/customers of my tarot card reading side business thought so, too.

This isn’t anywhere near a complete list. So add your euphemistic job retention statements (otherwise known as lies) and their real meanings in the comments section below.

*First published 21 May 2015 on LinkedIn

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