manager asking me to discipline my coworkers

A reader writes:

Several of the employees of my office (including myself) have been approached by our department manager, who has asked us to talk with specific employees about their attendance, personal phone calls, hygiene, etc. I feel this is the manager’s job to do but he has become down right insistent that we “handle” it for him. How do we tell the manager that he needs to control the employees with the bad attendance, personal phone calls, etc.?

Really? Wow, your manager sucks.

I’d say this to him: “I’m confused. I don’t have any authority over Jane, so I really can’t be the one to address this with her. You or someone else with authority needs to talk to her.”

Given that he’s clearly a d-bag, he may respond by claiming that she’ll take it better coming from you, or that he doesn’t have time, or any other similarly ridiculous excuse to not to do his job. Just pleasantly and firmly repeat, “I don’t have the authority to have those kinds of conversations with my coworkers.”

And if he tells you that he’s giving you that authority, say this: “I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying you’re making me her manager?” (He’s not. He’s trying to give you the authority for this one situation, because he’s an ass who doesn’t want to do his job.)

And because I’m in a cranky mood, if this guy keeps this up, feel free to complain to someone — HR or whoever. Couch it in terms of confusion — you’re confused about why your manager keeps asking you to exercise authority you don’t have.

No matter what your job is, it’s unacceptable to refuse to do what you’ve been hired for. But managers who won’t manage are the worst, due to the massive and destructive impact that they have on everyone around them. And unfortunately you’re working for one of them.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. nuqotw*

    How bizarre. What does he do with his time, since his job apparently isn't it.

    AAM, you are so good saying these things professionally.

  2. Susan*

    Wow! This manager sounds like the man I worked for when I was 22 years old. Something just like this happened to me. I was asked to talk to a female coworker about her tardiness, lack of professional dress, behavior in the workplace, and basically getting herself together. The woman I was supposed to "help" was more than 10 years older than me too. My manager told me that it would be easier for her to hear from another woman. Yeah right!

    I wish I had been a little older, so I would have told this man what a horse's rear end he was. He really was a horse's rear end too.

  3. Kerry*

    WOW. What a weenie.

    I would seriously think about making HR aware of the situation. It sucks that this guy is employed, and there are so many good managers out there who are unemployed. There's no reason for any company to put up with this crap.

  4. TheLabRat*

    The only thing on that list I find possibly understandable (but the manager's approach still sucks) is the hygiene issue. My mom works in a high tech field and thus is usually only one of a few women in her department. At one point a kajillion years ago her manager asked her to have a hygiene conversation with the only other woman in the department at that time. Given that the problem was quite literally related to her being a woman, I completely understand this in the early 1990s. But again, this particular manager was not such a lamer when asking my mom about it.

  5. Charles*

    I once had a boss who tried that "passing the responsiblity" thing.

    Simple solution – I asked him how much of a raise I was getting for taking on the extra responsbility?

    He never asked me again.

  6. Office Humorist*

    haha, you've got to love a post that not only has great advice, but also calls the bad manager a d-bag. keep up the great posts!

  7. Henning Makholm*

    TheLabRat: Why would hygiene issues be a possible exception? I concede that it is something of a taboo topic, but wouldn't that be all the more reason for not using an intermediate? With this approach, the employee in question not only will have to confront the hygiene issue, but will also know that conversations about her hygiene have been had between people in the office (namely the manager and the go-between) behind her back. In which possible way is that not worse than for a non-hygiene issue?

    If the manager is male and the hygiene issue is a female one, then, it might be uncomfortable to speak directly to the employee about it, but why on the green earth wouldn't it be as uncomfortable to discuss it with the (likewise female) go-between?

  8. TheLabRat*

    Henning: To keep it as non-disgusting as humanly possible, the woman in question had a terrible yeast infection and according to my mother, it was extremely noticeable from a distance in terms of smell. Since her boss asked (as in actually asked and was willing to accept she'd say no) she went ahead and spoke privately with the woman about it. My mom was able to broach the subject in a way that, as far as we know, came off like one woman noticing the issue and pointing it out to another, as opposed to the whole department talking about it.

    Again, though, I note that this was the late 80s/early 90s. While they are still outnumbered, there are more women in tech fields now, and I suspect that a similar issue would be handled differently today.

  9. class-factotum*

    the woman in question had a terrible yeast infection

    Wow. Did she not notice it herself? Speaking as a woman, let me tell you, this is not something you can ignore. And that's all I'll say about that.

  10. TheLabRat*

    Class, I had the same thought way back then when my mom told me this story. But apparently she didn't notice and there are documented situations where that's not that unusual.

    I guess my point in sharing the whole tale is that why I totally agree with the consensus here and would hate for any boss of mine to pull that nonsense, there are certain overly personal situations where I can see the need for flexibility, assuming the manager has a decent approach and doesn't expect to be told, "sure that's fine."

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