Boss Says More Customers Or His Kids Will Starve!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about owner sending guilt trips:

My employer, who is the co-owner of the company where I work often makes comments like, “If we don’t get more clients or make more sales I won’t be able to feed my family.” I understand where he’s coming from but feel his comments are bringing down morale. It’s definitely not making me work harder. Instead I’m feeling discouraged I’m not doing enough. What is the best way to communicate about this sensitive subject with him?

Signed, Feeling Guilty

DearĀ Feeling Guilty:

Why not try the direct approach, but with a touch of concern in your voice. The next time he says that, immediately say, “Tom, you’ve said that many, many times, and it’s starting to worry me. Are you really as depressed as you sound? Do you think I’m not doing what I should? How do you mean it?”

The thing is that he may be hinting to you that he DOESN’T think you’re doing enough—he ought to just come out and tell you. Or, he could be mostly joking–directly talking to him will let him know the joke is old. He may not mean anything by it at all—saying something directly may let him realize he has overdone the remark.But, unless someone says something to him, he will probably keep saying it and people will keep wondering what he means.I have a perfect recent example of this. Someone in a class I taught said her boss would say, almost every day, “Hustle folks, hustle!” It had become VERY annoying, after about the two hundredth time. She had a decent relationship with her boss, so she felt comfortable speaking up about it. Finally she said, sort of smiling but also with a serious approach, “Lorna!

You started saying that over a year ago, for some reason, and now you say it almost every day. Do you mean you think we’re not working hard enough or is it just a habit and you don’t realize you’re saying it almost every day?”The boss said, surprised, that she only meant it like, “Go team go!” The employee said, “Well, I have to tell you. It doesn’t sound like Go team go. But even that would wear on me after awhile.” The boss acted a bit embarrassed, but never did it again.I don’t think that’s being picky. Anything carried to excess is a problem.So, I think you should say something, in a good way, and find out for sure how the remark is meant. Best wishes to you with this!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.