Posts Tagged ‘boss


your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro /

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.


asking for a raise

Reader H. U. writes:

I have been working for the same company for over a year now, which doesn’t sound like much, but most of my friends tend not to stay longer than six months at any one place, so it feels like a lot. Like most overeducated kids my age, I’m underpaid (and underutilized, but whatever). I’d like to ask my boss for a raise. What do you suggest I do?

Dear H.U.:

I have read so many columns about this exact question. What’s one more?

Having done this several times myself, I can tell you it’s only worked once for me. So here are my tried and true tips for asking (but maybe not actually for getting):

Get all the encouragement you can. Yep, this is exactly why one more column on this subject can’t hurt, in my opinion. You may read the same advice over and over, but you need to get psyched. So do it. Google up, kiddo.

– Make sure you deserve it. If you want an increase in pay, you’re going to have to prove that it’s a good investment for the company, not just because you’re a precious snowflake. Definitely put together a list of all the amazing successes you’ve had in the past year. They should be proof that you increase the value of the company or the company’s product, and if you can prove that the place can’t get on without you, you’re golden.

Don't do this

Wait to do this until you get home. Image: Ambro /

Make sure you don’t NOT deserve it. On the flipside, make a list of the mistakes you’ve made, because if your boss has been paying attention, he or she may bring these up to counter your question. Be prepared to say what you’ve learned and how you can assure things will not go sour that way again. You don’t have to bring these lists into the meeting with you, but they may help you keep track of what you’re saying.

Know what you’re worth. Don’t just ask for “a raise”. Do the research. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, and anywhere else you can think of to list what the salary range is for your job title, actual work, experience, and education.  A lot of people are underpaid these days, so you’ll probably be pretty grossed out at how bad your pay is for the work you do. Don’t get emotional about it; just be armed with the statistics so you know a good range.

Know what you want. Decide how much of an increase you expect, and how much you would actually accept. While you shouldn’t ask for too much, if you have proof you’re worth a lot more than they pay you, they may give you a compromise that won’t be too shabby.

Don’t be a nuisance. If you wander into her office during a huge campaign and whine about your low pay, you may just get fired. Pretend you have an idea of what’s going on in the company on an emotional and fiscal level, even if you really don’t. Wait until after a big financial success (especially if you caused that success), and make an appointment.

– Ask earlier in the day, when your boss doesn’t have anything else huge on her/his plate. There is such a thing as decision fatigue, and you have a better chance of avoiding that if you ask in the morning than in the evening.

Have another offer waiting in the wings. This sounds like a dick move, but it’s really the only way to let them know you’re serious. “I’ve got an offer from X&X and they’re offering me 15% more” is a lot more powerful than “I’ve been here a year and think I deserve a raise”. (BTW, telling them you’ve got another offer should be your opening line.) This is, however, also the hardest part of job negotiation in the current economy. There aren’t that many jobs out there to begin with, let alone many that will offer you 15% more than the job you make now. But you can still look, and your current company will be faced with a decision about whether they can and will keep you.

Practice. You don’t have to memorize a speech, but you should know what you’re going to say. Go over it in your head a few times, or take a friend out to coffee and have them play the devil’s advocate. You want to go in prepared and relaxed. This may be the most nerve-wracking thing you’ll ever have to do at a job, so the more prepared you can be for it, the better. (You’re trying to prove you deserve it, after all.)

Don’t settle for “no”. Be proactive. If your boss tells you the company can’t give you a raise right now, ask for tips on how to assure they can in the future. Ask for more responsibility. It’s up to you to make the company want to keep you. And remember that company with the raise waiting in the wings? You might need to head that way if you really need the money.

Good luck!


my boss is an idiot

Reader D. G. writes:

My boss is a complete idiot. My company designs websites. My boss doesn’t understand the concept of the web at all, let alone coding or design. He keeps promising things to clients that can’t actually be done in our office, with our resources (especially staff, i.e. me). He doesn’t understand that you can’t just change the design entirely if you decide you don’t like some element. He doesn’t get how servers work and he doesn’t understand privacy laws. Basically, he is completely ill equipped to run a web company, and if it weren’t for the few other folks who work in the office, the company would deteriorate into nothingness, which it probably should, anyway. How do I deal with my boss’s complete lack of intelligence?

Dear D. G.:

bad boss

A bad boss can make you feel small. Image: graur codrin /

It sucks to be in a working position beneath someone who doesn’t actually deserve their higher position. Of course, you’ll probably never really know how he got there in the first place. If he owns the company you work for, you can probably guess — he couldn’t hack a job in the real world with real other people, and now he’s running the show of his own company because he’s actually an ego maniac. Sometimes ego maniacs lead great companies. Other times, they fail miserably because of their inability to see their failures.

I have worked for emotionally bankrupt people, people with anger management issues, incompetent people with complexes about their intelligence, narcissists, micromanagers, and bullies. So I completely understand how you feel.

Sadly, there’s not much you can do about a boss who’s an idiot beyond leaving the company for better climes, especially if he owns the business. You’re never going to be able to put him in his place (and even if you did, you probably wouldn’t last long within the company thereafter). There’s probably not anyone above you that you could complain to about him, either.

I’d say get your resume in order and start putting out feelers for a new position. It may take time, but that’s just fine. Don’t do anything rash like quitting without a new job lined up. Remember that a job with a crappy boss may not be as bad as no job at all.

And there are other ways you can deal with his idiocy while you’re looking for a new job.

For instance, having bitch sessions with your coworkers and colleagues might be helpful to relieve some of the stress. If your boss truly is an idiot, your coworkers probably think so, too. You have to be careful about this, however, because office politics are funny things. Don’t ever just cough up a criticism of your superiors with people you’re not sure feel the same way. Gossip can run rampant, but more importantly, if someone doesn’t agree with you, it can cause stress between you and that colleague. You may just want to bitch to your friends who work elsewhere. Sure, your colleagues may be able to chime in with their own stories of your boss’s antics, but your friends won’t go talking to your boss about your feelings behind your back. Better safe than sorry.

You could also start an anonymous blog keeping track of the idiotic things your boss says and does. Don’t ever use real names (not yours, not the company’s, not your boss’s, not anyone’s), and you should probably consider making it private and only inviting good friends and family members to read it.

I have also written stories for myself about the things I would say to my bad bosses, given the chance, or about them failing at life in general. For instance, I once had a particularly stupid boss and I decided to write a story about nobody coming to her wedding. In the story, she didn’t understand that nobody in the world liked her. It made me feel better to laugh at her in this way. I didn’t share the story with anyone else, but it felt good to get it down on paper.

Or you could enter a contest for bad bosses, like this one here. You may be vindicated by having your boss voted “worst in the world”. But even if you don’t win, reading the stories about other bad bosses will probably make you feel better about yours, too. You may find that your boss’s incompetence pales in comparison to some of the really terrible bosses out there.

Finally, I think you should find a way to focus on what’s good about your workplace. There has to be something. Are you allowed to wear whatever you want to work? Is the environment laid back? Do you get free lunches from time to time? Can you set your own work schedule? Is it easy to ask for time off? Are there pets around? Are your coworkers particularly funny? I’m sure there are tiny things at your job that can make you feel better, especially if you compare your situation to others’.

It is depressing that there are loads of incompetent, emotionally deficient, anti-social people in positions of power in the world. That is, unfortunately, not going to change any time soon. But you can at least feel less stressed out by it by resting in the knowledge that you’re not alone, and you will someday move on to a better job, or the company itself will disappear, leaving you with unemployment checks ’til you find a new spot to work in, hopefully with an intelligent, capable boss.

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