Don’t Want To Make A Mistake

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a query signed by a subordinate:

Good morning. My boss gave me a query for lateness to work, but asked the administrative officer, who is a very junior staff to me, to sign the query letter on his behalf. I need clarifications before I respond so that I don’t make mistake. I expected him to have asked my immediate boss to sign on his behalf rather than a very junior staff. Please, I need your urgent response. Thanks.

Signed—Don’t Want To Make A Mistake

Dear Don’t Want To Make A Mistake:

Unmet expectations often create worry. Apparently your work organization has a culture that emphasizes levels of authority. You refer to your boss asking someone who is junior staff to you to sign a query whereas you expected your immediate boss to sign. Your anxiety saying “I need your urgent response” about not wanting to make a mistake accentuates that you must be employed in a workplace that causes you to fear doing the slightest thing wrong.

In short, you want clear unequivocal instruction about how to respond. That most probably can’t be obtained from anyone outside your workplace. You need to talk to your immediate boss to learn what is appropriate. Rules are made by those who shaped your work organization. Ask your immediate boss; that is what bosses are for—to tell you what to do, what are the rules, and what is proper.

I don’t know how long you have been employed in this organization, but you should not expect to know every detail about who should or should not sign a “query”. Is not the important matter that you respond by providing an accurate explanation regarding the lateness? Learning the rules of any workplace takes time. Learning who does what and what are its past practices takes time. Learning how to fit in to a work group within the larger organization takes time. Learning about how important are its levels of authority takes time. So is it not reasonable for you to think of yourself as in a learning position no matter how long you have been employed and no matter what is your rank?

Adjusting to a workplace entails learning its stories—sometimes stories of what went wrong and who survived or was fired for making mistakes. Perhaps you have heard some of those. More importantly, it is good to learn the stories of how your workplace has met the challenges of adjusting to unexpected problem and competition. Seeing yourself as a learner should free you from worry about such things as who signs what. Life is too short to allow such worries to cloud your day or create sleepless nights.

Thinking of how to add value to your workplace is what really matters—how to cut wasted supplies, cut wasted time, cut duplication, cut wasted energy, cut defective parts, cut deficient service that displeases internal and external customers. I predict if you will make that your focus, you will be seen as one who adds value by your boss and your boss’ boss.

I expect you wanted a simple answer to tell you how to respond. That can’t be given from a distance. What I have tried to do is to help you frame this request for an “urgent” answer as a learning on-the-job expectation. Please let us know if these thoughts make sense to you and if they help you have the courage to assert yourself—to ask questions that get answers, to speak up when something doesn’t seem right, and to be proactive in shaping your role within your work culture. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is my way of wishing the best for you whatever you do today and tomorrow. If you have time, scan Q&As in our archives—they are lessons in what to expect submitted from many different work environments and how to respond. Also if you tell us, we can learn from what you elect to do and from what happens in your situation.

William Gorden



Hello, Dr. Gorden and I often add to each other’s responses and I will do so in this case.

In most workplaces a query letter is simply a letter asking you for an explanation of your actions. If you are a senior level person you have probably given people query letters or have responded to other query letters. In your case, your boss wants an explanation of why you were late to work. He probably is required to get an explanation any time an employee at any level is late.

Query letters are usually not personal, they are standardized or form letters. The boss’s name has to be on it, but below that is often a “Signed by” signature, and a secretary or someone else signs it to make it official. I have signed hundreds of query letters for a higher level boss, so I am aware of how those are often handled. Yes, your immediate boss could have been asked to sign it, but it was probably more convenient for the administrative officer to do so, especially since he or she will probably be doing all the paperwork on the situation anyway.

I agree with Dr. Gorden that if you have concerns about this or anything else, you should ask your immediate boss about it. However, I also think you can most easily just reply to the query letter as your higher level boss requested. If you have a good reason for your lateness, say so. If you do not have a good reason, it doesn’t matter how you received the query about it, you will probably receive some sort of corrective reminder.

Being late is not usually considered a very bad infraction, unless you have been late repeatedly or being late is just one of many rules violations you have committed. Hopefully not! You probably won’t have severe action taken about it, especially if you are at a senior level. If you are a good employee and rarely have problems, you can get through this and move forward with your work.

Best wishes!
Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors