Given a choice, I would prefer to work for a moderately capable but honest, hard-working boss than a smart weasel of a boss. And I am not alone in my preference.
The top reason people leave a job voluntarily isn’t for pay or a promotion; it’s because of a dishonest or incompetent boss. A few hundred years of literature followed by decades of employee attitude surveys provide the proof.
Nearly all the calls generated by this column are from people struggling with a work situation that goes against their sense of right and wrong. The essence of the problems presented by the callers is much the same as I have heard from employees for many years. Some things don’t change, though I wish they would.
With voices full of fear and frustration — and just a hint of hope — employees want to know if there is some way to speak up about a boss’s wrongdoing without putting their own job in jeopardy. Is there an agency or authority that will protect employees if they can prove that the boss is cheating customers, the business or the employees?
These are people who have stayed quiet, tried to look the other way and hoped the management would wake up, see the problem and fix it. These employees generally like their work, have been with their employer for many years and would like to continue their employment. But they believe the boss is hurting the business.
They all hope I will have a solution for them — and that’s why I find these conversations so difficult. Ninety-nine percent of the time there is no good solution.
The boss is cheating customers or the business; isn’t that illegal? Stealing from the business is theft and that is a crime. But it is rarely prosecuted. The books are jiggered, product is stolen, kickbacks and cash are accepted under the table. Padding an expense report is common — many people justify it with the belief that the company ”owes” them so they treat themselves well at the company’s expense.
Customers are overbilled, underserved and misled, but “buyer beware” makes it difficult to pin it down as a crime. Consumers aren’t well protected despite all the rules and regulations.
What happens when an employee decides to put his “proof” on the desk of the top boss and show him that one of his managers is stealing from him? There is a possibility — a slim one — that the business owner will be grateful the employee is looking out for the business.
Much more probable is that the employee reporting (even with good evidence) a supervisor’s bad actions will lose his or her job. It isn’t fair. Even if several people speak up — and have proof — the weasel boss will probably survive and the employees will be looking for work elsewhere and having a difficult time explaining why they left their old employer.
So what do I advise employees who come to me with solid proof of a supervisor stealing or cheating? Start looking for another job. When you have a new job — and if you aren’t concerned about burning bridges — then give the top boss your proof and explain why you left.
The boss is absent, stealing credit and is incompetent. When cellphones became common, so did absentee bosses. If supervisors have good employees who get the work done and the top boss or business owner doesn’t check on things very often, it is pretty easy for a supervisor to be absent.
The employees might be glad an annoying or incompetent boss isn’t around much, but they hate it when he takes credit for their work and collects a nice paycheck for doing next to nothing. This betrayal brings both men and women to tears as their long festering grievances come pouring out.
The absentee boss probably makes sure he has a friendly relationship with the top boss and he will be given the benefit of the doubt over complaining employees. Once again, start looking for another job and think carefully before setting fire to any bridges.
Why doesn’t the business owner or top boss thank the employees who speak up?
A dishonest business owner or manager doesn’t want nosy employees around — that’s obvious. And the honest, hard-working business owner or manager who hasn’t monitored what his supervisors are doing rarely welcomes an employee pointing out his shortcomings. It’s hard on his ego and just plain embarrassing.
In no way am I excusing business theft or shoddy business practices. Most managers are honest and want to do the right thing. Sometimes all it takes to do the right thing is to listen to the employee putting his job on the line to speak up. If the boss doesn’t want to listen, customers and others in the community will.
Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.