Social Question

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Why are some people so afraid to talk to their supervisor about a concern that is generated by a comment or action that the supervisor said or did?

Asked by Pied_Pfeffer (21977 points ) June 9th, 2012

It’s understandable if the supervisor has a track record of terminating any employee for minor issues, so let’s leave that out of the equation.

I’ve reported to more supervisors than the number of jobs held at the same company for 25 years. Not once did I ever fear going to a supervisor and letting him/her know if something that they said or did didn’t sit right with me. It always resulted with a positive outcome. They explained their point-of-view, and occasionally there was an apology for coming across in the way that I took the initial meaning.

The results of these conversations were a peace of mind, not dragging down the dept. morale by venting to co-workers, and building a level of respect between my supervisor and me. It was also helpful to give them positive feedback when I felt that they were on the right track. After all, they are human, too.

What keeps people from approaching their supervisor with any concerns?

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16 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

No one wants to ruffle the feathers in general. For some, it’s better to just shut up and “play the game.” Even if one isn’t afraid of being fired, there’s possibly a bad reputation in store or something like that.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Blackberry I’m not buying that. I’ve had people who reported to me come and tell me when they felt that I was out of line. I considered it a sign of respect. It never stopped me from moving up the corporate ladder. If anything, it caused more promotions than I really wanted.

whiteliondreams's avatar

Adding to Blackberry’s response, there can also be the experiential variable that someone may have said something and the outcome was negative. There can also be the psychological aspect that being a conformist will draw less attention to the individual being offended or regarding the concern without regard. So what Pied_Pfeffer says about people reporting up does not mean that there aren’t people who have not reported previously or at this very moment. Some people find it easier to be a “yes” person. It’s different when you are on the other side of the table giving the orders as opposed to correcting them.

Blackberry's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I’m taking a guess, I don’t really know why. It could be apathy, fear, or conformity.

filmfann's avatar

Good question!
I had a boss years ago who came across as pretty tough. When he said something a coworker took harshly, the coworker stewed over it all weekend. When he came back to work on Monday, he talked to the boss abvout it. The boss was angry that something he said ruined the guys weekend, and told him to talk about it with him next time. He was a good boss.

ucme's avatar

Because unfortunately the majority of workers are way too keen to defer to their superiors.
I mean, it’s not like Hitler’s running the show, grow some balls & man up, or if you’re female, kick him in the nuts, in a manner of speaking.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Unfortunately, many business are run more like the Gestapo than a republican. You don’t want to piss off the powers that be.

zenvelo's avatar

Because sometimes it comes back to bite you.

I have always approached situations like this with a “Just so I can understand, can I ask for clarification on…?” But I had one boss that was not too sharp, and used to push his own work off on me and others, then take all the credit. And a lot of time he was ignorant of effect he had on staff, and his anger was always near the surface. Even saying you needed a little guidance he’d get angry, mostly because didn’t know the tasks.

And last year, during a merger, I asked the global head of HR about layoffs and retentions, and was chastised for asking it. He mentioned it to my boss who put it in my review. So now I know that HR does not want any negative questions raised.

marinelife's avatar

You have been lucky in your supervisors. Not all of them are as evolved as your have been.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@whiteliondreams When a manager makes a negative comment about co-worker’s opinion, particularly in a public forum, then yes, it can be detrimental to the team morale if someone isn’t willing to address it.

Succumbing to the desire to not create a potential hiccup just doesn’t sit right with me. The feelings fester. If I have any level of respect for a manager, then the concern can be worded so as not to put him/her on the defense.

The “yes’” employees are the ones that I am concerned about. Let’s say that their supervisor comes across as a caring individual that looks out for their employees’ needs. Why is is so hard to go to them and voice an issue?

As a manager, it didn’t take long to learn that in order to carry out a company vision, it required the feedback and buy-in from the rest of the team. Any manager who says, “Do it because I’m telling you to” is eventually going to experience a lot of turnover. This isn’t what the question is about. Does it have to do with a perceived ranking? Why would they feel that their job or reputation is on the line if they speak up?

@Blackberry I can understand apathy if the supervisor displays a lack of concern for their employees and they need a job. As for fear, unless it is driven by a manager’s reaction to feedback that has been witnessed, I don’t believe it. It is only one side of the story. Conformity is another enigma. It becomes another Salem witch trial.

@filmfann Thank you for sharing that story. My last supervisor was in a similar vein. When a co-worker came to me to vent about the dept. head brushing her off in the hallway when approached about a job opening, she asked for advice. I told her that the the only way to get an answer was to go the dept. head for clarification. Surprisingly, she did. She then came back to me and shared the conversation. This is a woman who never wanted to create a ripple in the work tidepool, but found relief in talking it through with our boss.

@Dutchess_III Is that really true? That’s what I want to find out. How are employees to know if their supervisor isn’t supportive if they don’t give them a chance to rectify a situation?

@zenvelo Wow. That’s just not right on so many levels.

@marinelife Not all of them evolved from a line level to a management position properly. Often it was, “You do your job very well, so we are now making you a manager. Here is your job title and here are the keys.” The worst was a manager that had no life outside of work. When she changed the work schedule of my direct reports without discussing it with me first, that was a line crossed. I told her about how it made us feel when she did this. The restaurant staff was confused and I felt like she didn’t trust me to do my job well. It didn’t result in termination, but it wasn’t long before I transferred to a new location. A few months later, she was terminated for other ridiculous antics.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Is this question about finding out the reasons why people actually don’t talk to their supervisors, even if you personally don’t find it to be proper or rational or right or whatever? Or is it about you convincing people that they’re all doing it wrong?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Aethelflaed Thank you for asking this. The question is about uncovering why some people opt to not talk to their supervisor about their work environment concerns when there is no reason to assume it will end in some sort of repercussion. Why do they feel that it is better to hold the resentment inside or vent to co-workers?

Kardamom's avatar

I can’t say that I’ve had many great bosses, except for 1 or 2. The rest of them didn’t want to hear anything negative. Some of them even said specifically, “I don’t want to hear that.” I’ve seen other people get screwed over, or treated poorly because they spoke to the boss to let them know that they were 1. Out of line, 2. Not understanding something completely, 3. Had some ideas about how to solve an ongoing problem.

These types of bosses have huge egos and they don’t want to appear to be wrong or weak or stupid (even though sometimes they are). I’ve seen temporary employees who have spoken up not get asked back. I’ve heard it through the grapevine that certain employees were spoken ill of to other potential employers, because that employee dared to speak up to the boss. I’ve heard the boss say directly to an employee, “If you don’t want to work here and simply do what you’re told, there are 10 other people waiting in line to have your job. This isn’t a democracy.” I’ve seen employees who’ve spoken up to a bad boss get labeled as a complainer and not get promoted and not get plumb assignments. And I’ve actually seen bad bosses yell at employees and make them cry. And I found out the hard way that bad bosses will not keep what you say to them confidential, even if you’ve asked to have a private conversation with them.

That’s why I don’t think people want to speak up to their boss, because your ass is on the line. And most of the time it doesn’t do any good, for the reasons mentioned above and it is more likely to get you into some kind of trouble, even if you’re right and trying to do the right thing and solve a problem or create a better relationship or working environment.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer yes it’s really true.

zenvelo's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Yes, it was wrong, but it was one of the reasons that one boss got canned. And I learned a lot about how not to treat people. Most of the bosses I’ve had have been encouraging and supportive, given me a lot of rein to get my ideas done and in production. My current boss, the one who included criticism in my last review, is not confident in his position, and I have found that bosses who are not confident in themselves or their position can be teh most difficult to work with.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Kardamom Amazing, isn’t it? If I were to rank all of the managers that I’ve reported to on a graph, it would take the shape of a bell curve. A few were outstanding, most were good, and a few were just awful. The awful ones eventually moved on or were terminated, but it sure was painful while reporting to them. It didn’t stop me from giving positive or constructive feedback when it was deserved though.

Several years ago, our company’s VP of Human Resources polled 40K line level employees about reasons that would cause them to leave their job. I used these statistics as an opener for a management training class on how to build a successful work environment. The managers were asked as a group to put together a list of reasons and then rank what they thought were the top 10. Salary was always #1 in their eyes.

They were shocked to find out that it was in tenth place. Somewhere in the middle of this list were two that pertained to managers. Additional discussion brought about the conclusion that managers think that salary is the main reason because employees, when asked why when they turn in their resignation, give the answer, “I got a job down the street for $X more.” The manager assumes that it’s money-related. That’s not necessarily true.

People will stick with a job that pays less if the work environment is supportive. The #1 reason given for desiring to leave their job was the lack of recognition. Lack of training and lack of supplies to do their jobs well were also in the top 5.

@Dutchess_III There seem to be a fair amount of people that end up in a management position that aren’t naturally good at the job. Some eventually build the right skills based upon training and feedback. Fortunately, some recognize that it isn’t the right fit and change jobs. It’s that handful that have no desire to actually create a positive work environment that causes the most problems.

Turnover is incredibly expensive to a company, and it’s been proven by The Gallup Organization’s surveys on employees where when management style is ranked low, there are a higher number of employees that call in sick. Hotel guest survey scores were also lower at the hotels where the managers weren’t good at their job. It doesn’t take much to pick up on the negative atmosphere of a work environment, and yet some managers are either clueless or feel over their head.

This is why I have always felt the need to talk to a manager about my perspective on their words or actions. I have never witnessed someone getting fired for doing this. Does it happen? If so, how often?

@zenvelo Yes, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from the inept supervisors. Employee evaluations are a nightmare unless handled correctly. When I hired new employees, I gave them a copy of the annual evaluation and explained what each category represented for their particular job. It wasn’t necessary, but I conducted quarterly reviews using this form so that they got comfortable with it and knew where they stood. It was palm-sweaty horrific to walk into an annual review without having any prior feedback from the manager.

I have to beg to differ on the ‘bosses who are not confident in themselves or their position can be the most difficult to work with’ statement. They can often be trained by employees if they are open to it. In my book, the worst are the ones that basically state, “Do as I say and not as I do.” That statement makes my blood boil, and I have no problem talking to them about it. If it were to result in termination, so be it, but it hasn’t happened yet.

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