Reyer: Boss' laxity on job puts subordinate in touchy spot

  • Article by: LIZ REYER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 11, 2012 - 9:25 PM

Q I'm in an awkward position. My boss is really slacking off -- he disappears during the workday and doesn't do what he is supposed to do. His boss has asked for my opinion, and I'm really nervous to tell him what I think. How should I handle this?

A Your responsibility is to yourself and to your company, so use those perspectives to decide what to do.

The inner game

Start by clearing away any mental commotion about the situation. You may be frustrated with your boss. Perhaps his lapses are making your job more difficult, or you're upset that his behavior put you in this awkward spot. However, focusing on that won't help you gain clarity about the steps you want to take. Spend a few minutes focusing on your breathing and calming your mind. Then begin to analyze the situation.

First, consider the risks. What would be the worst thing that could happen if you share details about your boss' performance? Obviously, it could be uncomfortable if your boss learns about it and confronts you. What's the downside if you don't give your opinion? This could damage your relationship with his boss.

That sounds grim, but don't be discouraged -- there could also be benefits. If you and other co-workers provide fair and accurate feedback, your boss' performance could improve. And, frankly, if it doesn't improve and you end up with a different boss, that may be good for your work environment.

Think about the kind of person your boss' boss is. He is placing you in a delicate situation, so you'll need to decide whether you trust him. Also consider the situation from your boss' perspective to see how he might explain the situation.

Now, look inside and determine what feels like the right thing to do. Consider the advice you'd give to someone, weighing it for yourself.

The outer game

When considering your reply, prepare some talking points about any areas of concern that you decide to address. Perhaps some things are concrete, such as being away from work when he should be there. You may feel more comfortable discussing those issues.

Discussing intangibles such as a lax attitude toward his responsibilities moves into a more subjective area. You'll need to be comfortable that your feedback will be taken in the spirit in which it's intended. And also, you need to back up any statements you make with examples.

Think about how you'd handle it if your boss asks you about the conversation. Also anticipate your boss' boss pushing you to share more than you're comfortable with so that you remain in control of the conversation.

The last word

Your boss is making choices about his work performance, and it's not your job to protect him. However, be sure that you're honest and fair in any feedback you provide.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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