how can I help my unhappy boss?

A reader writes:

I work in a restaurant. I’ve been there for years and am half front of house staff, and half supervisor (which is like a mini-manager), and I have a really great relationship with one of my managers, who has been at this location almost as long as I have but with the company for many more. Between years spent working together and my status as a supervisor, she trusts me with a lot of information and behaviors that a manager normally wouldn’t share with an hourly.

Recently I’ve become concerned about her behavior/attitude at work, and I’m wondering if it’d be appropriate for me to say something to her about it. She’s very unhappy with the general manager and is actively searching for new employment, and I think she’s mentally checked out and it’s starting to show, at least to me. It’s not been uncommon for a closing manager and the remaining staff to grab a drink once or twice a month at our closed bar and just write it off as “spillage,” but she’s been honoring this occasional tradition alarmingly often. Examples being: pouring a little Bailey’s in her coffee every single night after we’ve closed, giving free drinks to her boyfriend who comes in once or twice a week, offering me the opportunity to have a drink myself every single night. I think she only does this around myself, and maybe one other hourly who has a similar relationship with her. I don’t think she does this with my other coworkers.

I’m worried that she’s gotten careless and apathetic, and that it’s going to cost her her job if her boss finds out. I like my manager very much, and don’t want to see things end up badly for her, but I don’t know if I should say anything about my concerns, or if I should, how I should approach it.

If you’re close enough to her that you feel comfortable with this, you could say something like, “I’m worried about you. I know that you’re unhappy here and not getting along with Bob, but I’m worried that you’re putting yourself in jeopardy by letting it show, and especially with using the bar more than before. I don’t want you to get in trouble, and I’m worrying that you might. Is there anything I can do to help?”

But aside from letting her know that her behavior has changed and that you’re worried about her, I’m not sure there’s much you can do. It’s kind to give someone a heads-up when their disgruntlement is showing in ways that might harm them, and it’s kind to express concern about her well-being … but from there, it’s really up to her.

(I’ll also add that if she’s the type of person to penalize you for saying this, then unfortunately you’re probably better off not speaking up.)

And don’t take her up on those offers for nightly drinks.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. OldSoul

    Using alcohol to dull the pain. Sad.

    I suspect she may have other issues going on that aren’t directly related to work. Sometimes, ‘I need a new job’ is a facade so we don’t have to face the real problems in life. I’ve been there a time or two.

    I hope that your talk helps her to realize she may need to get a grip on what’s really going on in her life.

    1. PEBCAK

      This. AAM’s advice has a “I don’t want you to get in trouble at work” tone, which is probably the most appropriate and safest tack to take in the workplace, but if you are close enough that you can be a legitimate friend, a “hey, I’m genuinely worried about you” tone can make a huge difference to someone who needs it.

  2. Not So NewReader

    By regularly refusing the nightly drinks, you might be able to make her think about what she is doing. Maybe.
    Role modeling correct behavior and not saying anything works – sometimes.

  3. Elizabeth West

    It sounds like she’s already checked out of this job. There may not be anything you can say that will help. I think Alison’s advice is good, though, and worth a try. She may really not have thought about the impression it will leave on her career if she gets fired for this.

  4. Kelly

    I would be very careful in her position, especially with the spillage. My sister worked at a high end restaurant for our area and for a couple months, their liquor financials were in the red because the waiters and bartenders where comping too many drinks to make it up to the customers for slow service or when they ran out of house or happy hour beer or wine, substituting a more expensive and similar one at the same price as the cheaper one. My sister bought it to her manager’s attention that they shouldn’t be doing that but her concerns where brushed aside. That is until the restaurant’s accountants did an audit and her manager and the then-head manager where told to put a stop to that practice. I know they were trying to provide good service, but not at the expense of putting the bar area into the red. I’m sure some customers were upset after that but when the margins between profit and loss are very slim, they did their best. Some regulars have gotten upset with the increase in the menus prices, but she said that was done after over a year of increasing food prices and was needed to help balance the kitchen’s books badly.

    Some spillage can probably be written off, but if she’s doing it every or most nights, then red flags will be raised with accounting. That’ll trigger an internal investigation and I’m not sure if your manager will be honest and confess to her behavior or throw you or another coworker close to her under the bus.

    I work retail and some shortage is to be expected, but when the total in the first three months of the fiscal year is significantly more than the previous year, that certainly got corporate and loss prevention interested. LP now pays us a visit once a month to do audits, and the store gets billed for their milage and hotel stays, if necessary. I’m hoping the shortage numbers are down so their visits get to be quarterly instead of monthly. It’s irritating pretending we do everything by the book when we know they plan on coming and the rest of the time, everything is done as it was before. I know LP can see through the charade, but it’ll take some real changes in personnel to have some consistency.

  5. Melanie

    I agree with Alison’s advice. And I would add that friendship across professional lines can be tricky. At the beginning of that chat, after ‘I’m worried about you’, I’d slip in a ‘do you mind if I speak very plainly here, as a friend and a colleague?’, and pause to give her the opportunity to respond. Asking permission can make all the difference in how your feedback is recieved. If you sense a ‘none of your business’ attitude, pull back. Your manager probably knows they’re on a death wish, so they’ll either be glad you care (and say ‘yes please speak your mind’) or they’ll want you to keep your thoughts to yourself.
    Good luck with this!

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