Ridiculing Signs In The Work Place

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about ridicule.

My immediate supervisor feels it OK to place a sign every time she has a conflict with the performance and/or conduct of another employee. I find this offensive.

Signed, Want The Signs Down

Dear Want The Signs Down:

I don’t understand what kind of sign could be used to show that your boss and an employee are having a conflict. It doesn’t seem likely that she would put a paper sign on your desk or in your work area, saying, “This employee is causing me problems”. But, whether the issue is a sign or something else that your immediate supervisor is doing, you have several options for response.

1. Talk to the supervisor directly. Tell her that the sign is offensive and embarrassing and you would like some other way to work out conflicts. This may require that everyone involved think about how they have responded in the past when the supervisor has had a concern about work. If they have ignored her or not responded to her instructions, maybe she feels this is the only thing that gets attention. (It’s certainly not a good idea, but I can’t help but wonder why she is doing it in the first place.) I doubt that you could be fired for removing a sign from your desk or out of your work area, so why not just take it down and ask her to talk to you? If the sign is in her work area (a poster or something on a bulletin board) you could go to it and ask her to talk to you about it. (Without a bit more explanation, it’s hard for me to envision what kind of sign could be used.)

2. If that isn’t effective, go to the level above your boss and ask for assistance. You can explain that normally you would not go to a higher level manager, but the sign issue is such a problem that you feel you have to do that. You may find that the higher level person knows about it doesn’t mind. Hopefully he or she will realize there has to be a better way to resolve a conflict. I don’t usually advocate anonymous letters, but if there have been many of the signs, the higher level boss wouldn’t be very likely to know who is sending the letter and it might be a way to forward the information.

3. If talking to your immediate supervisor or to the manager doesn’t seem to work, perhaps you can go to a Human Resources section or some other office that handles employee issues, where you could get some advice or assistance.

4. If none of that is effective and the signs are still in place, you will need to decide how offensive the signs are and if they are used so often as to keep you from doing your work effectively. Or, if they are intolerable, you will need to decide if this is the kind of place where you want to work. There is obviously some sort of a relationship and communication break-down in your office. That has to be repaired at the same time you are asking for signs to not be used. It may be that it will have to start with employees such as yourself, looking for ways to communicate without having an argument, without anger later and without gossiping about disagreements. Disagreements about how work should be done are often part of work, but they don’t need to end with signs being placed around a work area! Best wishes to you with the situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.