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5 Offensive Things Managers Should Never Say

manager angrily points at watch

Effective leadership is crucial for sustaining a thriving company with a stable and motivated workforce, yet so many people occupying managerial positions are unbelievably bad at this aspect of their job. Managers have a lot on their plates, which means that the interpersonal aspects of their job aren’t always the priority it should be. So when they find themselves in complicated situations with a member of their staff, they sometimes utter horrendous statements without considering the emotional consequences. We have assembled a list of 5 offensive things managers should never say to their employees.

1. Maybe this Job isn’t for You

Think of a classroom full of young impressionable minds. Each tender little face looking up at you, a vessel of knowledge, master of their domain, commanding the day, selecting anything from finger-painting to science projects, like a veritable god. Today is math problem day. And while Josephine relishes figuring out how fast a bus moves along an interstate highway on a Tuesday in July with 30 ravenous girl scouts dividing up 22 soft tacos between them, Krishna was quietly praying for story-time. He loves reading, but balks when the characters inexplicably demand he calculate their adventures. So when you call on him to come up to the board because you know he needs to hone his problem-solving skills, you transform from noble Grasshopper to hired assassin. It is up to you, dear teacher, to guide your student away from their fears and toward solutions.

Employees might not do things exactly how you would like them to be accomplished. Each employee is a unique individual whose brain functions in ways that make sense only to them. This doesn’t mean they are incompetent when they don’t function at your preferred tempo and cadence. As long as the outcome is successful and their methods are not taking an unreasonable amount of time to execute, their process shouldn’t matter. Instead of making them feel expendable, your job is to lead them towards success. Teachers cannot simply transfer a student out of their classroom because a child struggles with some aspects of the curriculum. Similarly, managers should never deem employees as expendable marionettes beneath their strings. The moment you suggest that an employee is replaceable, their motivation will evaporate. And, as we all know, turnover is expensive. Nurture your people. They want to succeed, just as you do.

2. Call Me Only When It’s Important.

Let’s return to our classroom for a moment, shall we? You, O Vessel of Knowledge, have dinner plans for tonight. You’re trying to complete tomorrow’s lessons now, during the blessed hour of silent reading time. Paulo hobbles over to your desk. He tied his shoelaces together for a gag and now he can’t get them undone. While you’re on that mission, Christiana tentatively approaches because she can’t pronounce a word on page eleventy-seven. Jonah just announced a papercut. On his eyeball. It’s all so…distracting. They say a teacher makes 1500 decisions a day. Not all of them are on the same level of urgency, but they all need attention. They need it from you, Grasshopper.

You are dismissing this scenario as irrelevant because you’re dealing with adults, not children. You’re entirely right about that; unless you’re breaking child labor laws, the problems your employees have will always be adult problems. Nevertheless, they still need you, veritable god that you are, Knower of knows. And in that role, you can choose to be merciful or merciless, kind or cruel. Managers should never discourage employees from reaching out. As Grasshopper, no problem should be considered too small. The moment you show your employees that you are available to them, they will respect your generosity. And perhaps that same generosity will lead to unexpected breakthroughs with those employees. However, if your people are reticent to approach you, they may inadvertently hoard information that could be valuable to your company’s growth.

3. Is That the Best You Can Do?

Students are tasked with seeking answers and when they are successful in their endeavors, praise is typically bestowed upon them. The workplace shares a similar dynamic to a school environment. Both should foster a culture of learning, of growing, of contributing, of cooperation. Evaluations transpire in both cases. However, outside of formal review, employees often don’t hear about their performance from their supervisors, until there is a problem. And when there is a problem, you never want to be caught saying an offensive thing you can’t take back.

People love validation. A hat tip from your boss, if you have one, feels wonderful. Glowing reviews from your customers are always a welcome sight. The approval of your partner strengthens bonds. People appreciate positive feedback well into adulthood. Hearing that you’ve done well by someone you respect, especially someone who has authority over you, is not something we leave behind in childhood. On the flip side, insults harm growth. Do you remember compliments people gave you or do you recall the criticisms more acutely? Managers should never limit their commentary to employee failures. You should actively work on finding ways to nurture your employees’ specific talents. They were hired for a reason. You saw something in them or the person who hired them did. Find ways to allow them to flourish. Then let them know when they succeed. These people are your garden, not your dumpster.

4. Work Needs to be Your Top Priority.

Most adults have these two statements in common: a) I need to work. b) I have a private life outside of work. Those two statements are often connected in invisible ways. People usually work in order to pay for their wants and their needs. Others love their job so much they would work regardless of whether they needed the salary or not. The ultimate truth is that most people work because they must; therefore, work will never actually be a priority that supersedes their home life.

As a manager, you are a person who has a great deal of influence over how much your employees enjoy fulfilling their duties. And why, you might ask, should you care whether or not they enjoy their job? If you are wondering that, then you haven’t been paying attention. It is everything. These two worlds of work and private life can be symbiotic. When in balance, they can support each other. But you must be realistic in understanding that it is rare and even unhealthy to elevate a job, no matter how beloved, over a personal life. Other than the occasional need for them to work longer hours on deadline, managers should never expect their employees to choose between the two. It is offensive to imply that they should do so. It will create disharmony and the workplace will ultimately lose. 

5. Where Have You Been?

And so we return to the classroom one last time. It’s been half an hour and Randy, who escorted Jonah’s wonky eyeball to the nurse, hasn’t returned. Where the heck is he? You’re frustrated with this whole day so far full of moments rife with unexpected delay.

And that is where we leave the classroom of children to return to the adult arena where managers should never ask fully grown human beings where they have been. Perhaps their child lost their key and they needed to take a moment to guide them towards the spare. Maybe the employee is having a mild case of food poisoning. Someone may be taking a walk to clear their head and reevaluate their approach to a delicate work task. These days, many people are already working from home, so they could be walking the dog intending to make up the time on the back end of the day. Regardless, it is offensive to ask them where they were. Even if you needed them. You must learn to trust your team.

You should have a reasonable and explicit policy about absences during the day. For instance, you could mandate that anyone who needs to run an errand that will last longer than an hour, should notify the department using the interoffice chat. It is unreasonable to expect that a grown human being not have occasional obligations, even during the workday. You should foster a positive environment brimming with respect, like what we hope for in a classroom full of children. But do not treat your employees like children.

Okay Grasshopper, you are ready now. Go forth and allow your employees to prosper. is an online time and expense tracking software for employees and contractors. Need to track attendance, projects, time off, and more? Start a FREE trial to see how it works!

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