When manager puts friendship above performance expectations, everyone loses

Dear Joan,
This letter poses two problems I am currently experiencing. My boss makes jokes of everything and I never know when to take him seriously. He also uses foul language, which I find very offensive and I don’t think he respects me. (I am female.)

My coworker, who reports to me, lives across the street from my boss. They are friends and my coworker knows he can get away with arriving to work late every day (even after extensive conversations about it) calling in sick, etc. because he knows he will still have a job because the two of them are buddies. My boss is approximately 57 years old and my coworker is 23.

It is now 9:40, and office hours begin at 8:30 here. My coworker is not in nor has he called. This has been going on since I was hired in 1998. I think it is unfair that the gets away with this sort of thing and my boss just makes excuses for him. However, if the shoe were on the other foot….

My questions:

  1. How can I work effectively with my boss without offending him but at the same time counteracting his offensive language? (He calls me "baby"!)
  2. I am at my wits end with my coworker. He is a very talented young man and I like him but he is disrespectful and irresponsible. What can I do to tame him? Anything?

If your boss tolerates your employee’s tardiness and absenteeism because he is doesn’t have the gumption to risk a confrontation with a neighbor, he is irresponsible. If he is unwilling to confront the problem because he is protecting a buddy, he is incompetent. I suspect he’s a little of both.

Unfortunately, when you address either one of these issues with your manager, you will be at risk. Why? If this has gone on since 1998, what would be his motivation to change?

The only leverage you have is your own performance. If he thinks you are frustrated enough to leave—and he can’t afford to lose you—he may be forced to support you. But even that may not be enough. If it comes down to his buddy or you, which one will he choose? Is your boss mature enough to stand behind you and do what is right?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you have truly had enough, and are willing to take a risk, you need to talk to your manager. Start with your employee issue first, since you can make a strong case for requesting his support. Ask for a meeting and say, "I just want to make sure I have your support on something. (Let’s call your employee "Tom.") "Since I’m Tom’s supervisor, I am supposed to have the authority to hold him accountable, right? His attendance and tardiness are out of control and he has been ignoring me when I tell him he needs to be in on time and that he can’t miss so many days. (Back this up with specific facts.) He has ignored me because he is your neighbor and he thinks he can get away with anything. I find his insubordination unacceptable and insulting. I need you to back me on this because if you don’t it will undercut my leadership authority. In the future, can I count on you to back me when I hold Tom accountable?"

Explain your plan to your boss: You will tell Tom that you and your manager have talked and you both agree that he needs to improve drastically or he could be in danger of losing his job. If he balks, or it happens again, send him home and tell him you will pay him for the day. "I’d like you to go home and think about whether or not you want to work here. If you want to stay, come back tomorrow with an action plan. If, for whatever reason, you don’t choose to come back, it’s been nice working with you. I hope you do decide to stay and I’ll be waiting for you at 8:30 the following day, when we’ll meet to discuss your plan."

The reason for the "Decision Day" is twofold: 1. You want to startle him into the realization that you mean business, 2. You need a way to determine if your boss will support you. If he won’t support this, there is a good chance he won’t support you and you are wasting your breath. In that case, you really aren’t a supervisor. You’re merely a coordinator who has no real authority but plenty of responsibility—an unworkable position.

Regarding your boss calling you "Baby," state in an unemotional voice, "And please don’t call me "baby." Although you may be kidding, it just undermines my position and erodes my ability to earn Tom’s respect." If he doesn’t stop, use stronger language and tell him you find it inappropriate. If that fails, use the H word: harassment. Unless he’s lived under a rock for the past few years, he should know enough to stop.

If things don’t improve in these two areas, it will do you little good to ask him to improve his language around you. However, if he respects you enough to act responsibly on the first two issues, he’ll likely listen to your request for less vulgarity at work.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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