Supervisor Is Rude

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about uncaring remarks of the boss: Our supervisor basically says, “If you guys leave, I will just find someone to take your place.” He has said this numerous times.

I have a supervisor that has been saying extremely rude comments to all of his employees. I work for the government, so jobs come up regularly in our building. Our supervisor basically says, “If you guys leave, I will just find someone to take your place.” He has said this numerous times to the point of all of us feeling like our worth to him doesn’t matter because we are replaceable. Also I have a friend that got an offer to work here, and our supervisor said to him as well if you don’t take the position, I will just find someone else. Yes this is true, but even my friend said, “I don’t know if I want to work for someone that doesn’t care about his employees.” What can I do or say? This is really lowering morale and honestly makes all of us not want to work for him. He’s not credible in his position and doesn’t even know what his employees even do.

Signed, Can Be Replaced

Dear Can Be Replaced:

From what you say, it is clear that you have a boss whom you don’t respect and you don’t know what to do about that. First let me address his habit of telling those he supervises that they can be replaced and how you feel about that: Has anyone told your supervisor that his habit of telling his subordinates they are replaceable is demoralizing?

Supervisors develop communication patterns, and patterns are not easily changed. For example, you and I might have the habit of ending a statement with “Do you know what I mean?” or “You know.” We may use a phrase like that a dozen times within a short conversation and not realize we have said them. And we will continue to punctuate our remarks with those words until they are brought to our attention and, more importantly, until we are motivated to change.

That point was made in one of the Paul Bunyan stories: “It is certain that all the great loggers ever did took place either before or after the winter of the Blue Snow. The Blue Snow fell between the Year of the Two Winters, when it grew so cold that it didn’t start to thaw until after it began to freeze again. “It was so cold that winter that the men’s words froze and dropped to the ground as they were spoken. The efficient bookkeeper, Johnny Inkslinger, thought of boxing up the most explosive of all words and selling them for blasting powder. “One good thing that came out of the cold spell was to cure all the men in camp of swearing. Whenever a man dropped a cuss-word, Paul had it picked up, labeled with the man’s name, and forced each man to listen to his baleful of cuss words when they thawed in the spring. Brimstone Bill was the worst offender. He was deaf for three weeks after being forced to listen to his thawing pile of cuss words. That cured him.”

So my point is simply this: we don’t change until we are made aware that what we say and do is inappropriate and doesn’t get what we want. Your supervisor most likely wants you to work scared–scared you can be replaced. He likely thinks his remark “I will just find someone to take your place” earns him compliance and respect for his authority.

Until someone of you confront your supervisor about how this makes you feel, you and your coworkers can be sure that he will continues to use this obvious threat to keep you working scared for your jobs. What would happen if several of you surrounded him in a time-out session and asked, “John, why do you frequently tell us that we are replaceable?” Let’s supposed he would answer, “Because you are.”

Suppose further that you then said, “John, we know that, but do you know how that makes us feel? It makes us feel you don’t give a damn whether we are here or not. It makes us feel you don’t appreciate us no matter how hard we work. Do you understand that?”In short, supervisors too often don’t realize how they come across. They likely grew up with threats from teachers, parents and former boss; Santa Clause threats, “You better be good or you won’t get any candy.” And they worked their way up to a supervisory position thinking that is what bosses do. I predict that if you and a couple of coworkers confronted your supervisor that that could lead to a better boss/bossed relationship.

Even bosses that have been conditioned to think they must rule by fear can be jarred to see that their bossing results in dislike of them. A confrontation can escalate in a positive way to a frank discussion of “How do you want me to supervise?”This then can evolve to a discussion of what you want and don’t want from you supervisor; want respect, want him to know what you do, want him to be concerned about your career path. I sense that you see your supervisor as the enemy. You don’t like his thinly veiled threat that he can replace you. You don’t think he knows what you do from day to day. You think he really doesn’t care for your welfare. And conversely, you probably feel that way about him.

Sooo what do you really want from your supervisor? If you could make the rules about how he should speak to you and you to him, what would be their dos and don’ts? Hammering out the way a supervisor and those in his charge should communicate is a process that can lead to a good working relationship.Until and if you are willing to risk a candid confrontation, he will continue to threaten to replace you and you will continue to see him as the enemy. Right? Workers don’t need to speak up with bosses that care. They don’t see bosses as police who watch for missteps.

Those who have the guts to voice their concerns for how they want to be supervised will not gossip about their uncaring supervisor. They know that change “takes” talk about talk. Your supervisor will never change without an eye-to-eye session and a follow up skull sessions. He will not be a coach until he learns there is a better way; one in which you who are supervised by him can ask “How well did it go this past week?” And what might we do to meet his and our expectations? If you are serious about wanting to come to works with high morale, you must face the fact that that won’t just happen. You have to work to shape a positive boss-bossed working relationship. Take time to scan the hundreds of our Q&As on bad bossing and on teamwork in our Archive. Read the posts of Tina Lewis Rowe, my associate workplace doctor. Don’t allow your frustration with the way it now is in your building to escalate or become an ongoing obsession. The problem you bring undoubtedly has bothered you for some weeks. Therefore there is no rush to act hastily. Think through what you will do, but then act. You have a voice. You have feelings. You want respect. You want to want to come to work without fear. Consider what my signature bit of advice packed into this sentence might mean for your work situation: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden