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Advice on Problems With The Boss

Unfair Practices

I work for a small course company that offers several online courses that start a new session every month, with the start date being the third Wednesday of the month.

I requested three weeks in advance to take an hour off at the end of the Monday of last month’s start week, to take my daughter for her one year checkup and shots.  My boss denied the request because it was a start week.  Then she sent an email emphatically stating that no time off will be given during start week.

This was last month.  This month another new mother in my department took the actual start day completely off to take her daughter to the doctor for a checkup and shots.  She was allowed to do this by our boss.

Because of her denial for my hour’s early leave, I had to reschedule my daughter making her two months late for this checkup and shots.  This seems to be a double standard, and I am unsure how to approach this issue.


Millie, a few years ago primatologists Frans de Waal and Sarah Brosnan reported an experiment they did with capuchin monkeys.  Capuchins like cucumbers but love grapes.  These capuchins were trained to exchange pebbles for food, and when one monkey got a grape for a pebble, while another got cucumber, the second monkey was miffed.  That monkey might throw the cucumber away or refuse to pay a pebble for it.

de Waal observed that we are taught to believe fairness is an idea introduced by wise men “after pondering right, wrong, and our place in the cosmos.”  Actually, the idea may be wired into our genes.  That’s why you feel angry, insulted, and embarrassed.

The question is, what to do about it?  The standard advice says communication is the key.  Don’t get emotional, document what happened, and pick an opportune time to discuss this with your boss.  But if you felt you could talk to your boss, or if your company had firm procedures, you would not be writing.

Here’s the problem.  Shove the idea of fair play into the face of someone who does not play fair, and it could backfire.  Whistleblowers don’t usually get rewarded.  They get sacked.  And people who hold grudges remember every slight, every roll of the eyes, and every slow response to, “I’m right aren’t I?”

There are only two good answers to unfairness in the workplace: rank so high in the social network you are protected, or perform your job so well you are indispensable.  You’d like to have an hour-long bitchfest with your girlfriend, drown your sorrows in chocolate cake, and then tell your boss where to go.  But you know that won’t do any good.

What will help is asking yourself the most basic questions.  Why did someone get a day off when you could not get off even for an hour?  Are you held in low esteem there?  Are the rules quirky and capricious?  Is your boss unapproachable?  Answer those questions and a strategy will emerge.

If communication is out of the question, make sure the favored people don’t know of your resentment and find an outlet for your anger.  We don’t normally recommend this kind of gamesmanship because it comes with a high emotional cost.  Unfairness makes us wear even more of a masked face than we typically wear in public.

If you are deeply upset with what happened yet powerless to change it, you have to get out of that zone.  Tonight instead of watching a movie on television, spend two hours working over your resume, looking at job postings, or upgrading your skills.

We have to react productively to the foibles of those in power.  If you believe the chef will spit on your food if you send it back, the only power you have is not to go there again.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


No Class

The manager of a very posh store in New York City has this weird habit of touching her employees' lunches.  She has picked up sandwiches and taken bites out of them without permission.  She even sticks her finger into their donuts or muffins while they are eating them.

She laughs and thinks it is funny.  I find it disgusting and rude.  What is wrong with this woman?  People have said things to her, but she continues to abuse her authority.  Since she rules the store, what can they do?


Mardi, there is one thing they can do about this woman's behavior.  Make her disappear!  They can do this permanently by quitting, or temporarily, by eating out or eating elsewhere.

Obsessions, compulsions and morbid habits are deeply rooted.  Her brain is stuck on impulses you will probably never understand, but even if you did, you lack the power to change them.  It is sometimes said people who act this way get no pleasure from their behavior, but there is a clear gain to her actions.

Every time she touches her employees' food she reinforces her superiority and their inferiority.  In a way, that is the essence of poshness.  The word "posh" means elegant, expensive and upper class. 

Knowing the right wine to order from an extensive wine list may be wonderful, but only if you already know what is truly important.  For that reason, being posh implies the ability to make unimportant distinctions, while being blind to what is truly important.  In that sense your manager and her store are truly posh.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)



I had a close, healthy working relationship with the head of my company until another administrative assistant came in.  I was told to train her so I would be free to travel for the company, which I did.  I successfully went to bat for her with the boss to get her a significant raise, because she was underpaid. 

She didn’t want to ask for a raise herself.  She told me she would appreciate my help in speaking up for her, and she got a huge raise out of it.  When she had a death in her immediate family, I, again, spoke to our boss on her behalf.  The company paid for her to fly across country to the funeral.  I took up a collection in our office to give her traveling money.

Now this admin speaks disrespectfully to me and makes every effort to prevent me from interacting with our boss.  She uses filthy language in the office and on the phone with our colleagues.  I briefly met with this admin in private and told her she is not to speak to me so disrespectfully.  She was hostile. 

The boss thinks she is terrific, but is rarely exposed to what the rest of us see.  Her behavior is daily unprofessional, yet she seems to get away with it!  In a couple of months her responsibilities will shift to another area, and I will be back in the position of close assistant to our boss.

I look forward to this transition as I feel my boss’s perception is that I am not “engaged,” when in fact I try to be but am constantly blocked by this rude girl.  I want to have the close communication with the boss I had originally.  What should I do?


Audrey, to paint a realistic picture an artist must solve the problem of perspective.  This can be done by imagining the canvas is an open window.  The artist then paints on the canvas as if painting the scene on window glass.  That’s how the problem of perspective can be solved.

You think your boss has a perspective problem.  You are in a hurry for him to recognize how bad an employee this admin is, which means you are also in a hurry for him to recognize what a bad situation you put him in.  Of course he doesn’t want to see her flaws.  She was hired at adequate wages, and he increased her salary on your recommendation. 

If you point out her flaws, he will feel the fool for having listened to you.  You are like the tailor who told the emperor how beautiful his new clothes were, and now you want him to admit he’s been walking down the street naked.  In fact, he has to admit to two misjudgments: one about her and one about you. 

Your best bet is to keep quiet and wait this out.  You vouched for her so you could assume your new responsibilities.  And look what it’s done.  Now you have a person who can’t or won’t do the job properly.  We can’t fault your boss for his perspective on this matter because you are the one who painted the picture for him.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Office Politics

Recently my boss updated our software with the new version.  Everything went okay except something was added onscreen we didn't need.  It didn't print out on invoices so it didn't really matter.

Two days later she went into the software and changed the template.  Basically that messed up everything.  It wasn't really a problem either, because we got it fixed and everything ran fine.  However, while we were getting things fixed, all our invoices had to be handwritten.

On a morning when I wasn't at work she informed everyone I caused the problem.  Of course, they brought it up later in front of me and her, and she smiled.  I came to my own defense and said I didn't create the mess.  However, I felt humiliated and am not sure if I can trust her or work for her. 

She acted like nothing was wrong.  What should I do, and how should I react to this matter?  This isn't the only incident.


Lily, one slang term for the devil is "Old Nick."  The term refers to Niccolo Machiavelli, whose realistic book about how politics is actually practiced was considered by some to be the work of the devil.

Machiavelli observed a person who knows how to craftily manipulate the minds of others will, in the end, surpass those who lay their foundation upon honesty.  He also noted that most people are so controlled by present necessities and so simpleminded they will allow themselves to be deceived.

Blurring reality with lies often works, and what Old Nick said explains why negative campaigning works so well.  It also explains why your boss acts as she does.  Creating confusion in the minds of coworkers, customers, and superiors about the real source of the problem protects her position of power.

You were right to stand up for yourself, and in the workplace that is about all you can do.  People like your boss usually pick on a weak target and defending yourself makes you less vulnerable to her attacks. 

It was said of one American president that he wouldn't tell you your pants were on fire unless he thought it was in his own self-interest to do so.  Your boss is like that.  Knowing that, you need to decide if you should remain in this workplace.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


High Wire Act

I am single, attractive, and 42.  For the last decade I've been personal assistant to the managing director of my company.  He and I have a very good relationship which is essential in this kind of role.  When his marriage of 25 years broke down, he was loathe to discuss it with family or friends.

Our good working relationship and confidentiality paved the way for him to turn to me for advice and support.  I was happy to provide it as he has been a good friend to me.  Nothing sexual has ever happened between us, however, his ex-wife resented our friendship because she felt we always got on better than he and she did.

Three months ago my boss met a lady 20 years his junior at a party at one of our other offices.  They fell for each other.  My problem is his now wife-to-be will not tolerate me at all.  He suggested to her that she and I should speak.  She duly called me, and I attempted what I thought was a pleasant "girly" chat.

It was obvious she was reluctant to talk, but I put this down to the fact we didn't know each other.  Since then she has refused to discuss or acknowledge me.  He can't bring me up in conversation as it induces a row.  This puts our friendship under severe strain.

It's also going to make life difficult for me when I attend company events where she will be present.  I am frightened anything I say or do may be misconstrued by her and lead to a row either with me or, when they return home, with him.  This saddens me.  I know he finds this situation difficult to manage because it involves a lot of female feelings he can't comprehend.

He admits his new love is jealous of any female that comes near him, but she has a special resentment for me.  I am keen for us to be friends, but I also feel he has to side with her which makes me a two time loser.


Deborah, the ancient seer Epimenides said, "There is a pleasure in being mad which none but madmen know."  There is also a perverse pleasure in jealousy which none but the jealous know.

Dealing with someone with a true jealousy problem is like dealing with someone with a mental illness.  Your boss will be accused of things he hasn't done, and she will see your actions as suspicious attempts to placate her reasonable fears.  Forget any idea of winning her over.  Jealous people can't be won over.

Your best strategy is to do your job to perfection and keep as far into the background of their relationship as you can.  When you run into this woman, maintain the wallpaper persona of the subordinate employee.  We know this is demeaning, but your main goal is to keep your good job.  As you know, a good personal assistant must be able to walk a tightrope, even without a net.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Rocking The Boat

I work in a factory, and we have supervisors who play favorites.  They have about six girls who can do no wrong, and they have easier jobs than the rest of us.  These girls go out after work to bars, and that is why they are in with the supervisors.

The boss over these supervisors will not do anything because his boss is the father of one of these supervisors.  So long as "Daddy boss" is still there, this boss will not do anything to the supervisors.  One girl played around and made the machinery malfunction for an operator, but she didn't get into trouble because of the favoritism.

Do we go to the owner of the company with a complaint on why these bosses will not fix this mess?


Carol, we will not tell you that you should go to the owner.  What we will tell you is how this usually plays out. 

Some things are worth doing because you feel they are the right thing to do, even when you know they will not succeed.  As a rule, whistleblowers do not succeed.  Complaining or whistleblowing makes you the problem, instead of the problem you are calling attention to. 

Human beings are social animals, and family and social connections in the workplace usually count for more than merit or truth.  Truth is very weak.  There is nothing pushing it.  It can't stand up to people pushing their own agenda.

The one place where truth, fact, and objectivity are supposed to rule is science, but even in science it is a problem.  The physicist Max Planck once observed that an important scientific innovation is usually accepted not because people readily accept its truth, but because the older generation of opponents grows old and dies off.

Carol, you have three options: you can overlook the unfairness and become immune to it, you can seek other employment, or you can try to fix the problem.  Fixing the problem is the solution least likely to occur.  In all probability, your workplace is a boat the owner does not want rocked.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

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