The Lying Boss and Your Bottom Line

Telling customers that the staff makes more than the owners isn't just petulant, it's harmful.

The Lying Boss and Your Bottom Line

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I work at a small pub. About a dozen people work in the tavern, and most of them are friends with the owners. Since years, I've enjoyed telling customers what a great experience it is to be able to work at an owner-operated business. Recently, however, this is no longer true. In the last couple of months, our owner has told customers and anyone else who would listen that he and partner earn less than employees. The staff are directly involved. We are a small business, so we all get our pay in the same envelope. We can see all of them, even the owners. Each of them earns about $4,000 per month more than average employees.

In another industry I would think that my boss was telling a bizarre, bizarre lie. What a strangeo! Let it go. This is a bar and I depend on tips. The person who lied to him will often decide not to tip because they believe, incorrectly, that people are earning too much. How can I navigate this situation without losing my friend?

-- Anonymous

If your employer engages in such behavior, he's not your friend. I don't know why he tells such bizarre lies to his customers. But some business owners have victim complexes. Some business owners are not making as much money as they'd like to, so they begin to think that greedy workers are stopping them from reaching their financial goals. It is not true. It is possible to run a profitable business, but you will need money. To run a business in an ethical manner, owners must pay their employees a generous wage and benefits.

There is no tactful way for me to bring up this topic with your employer. You can take it at face value that your workplace is friendly. You can ask your employer to have a chat and explain that disclosing the salaries of your staff is affecting your tips. You don't have to say that he is lying blatantly if you want to be tactful. He will hopefully take your hint and change his course. If he does not, then it's time to stop being tactful.

I am part of the software team for a company that is rapidly growing. My six-person software team is part of a 14-person office in the U.S., whose main office is located overseas. My team is very close and we are nearing the completion of a difficult and important project. I was thinking about inviting my team to a dinner at my home. Would that be strange? I'm not trying to be political, I think the team is great and a dinner party could be fun. Plus, I like to host and cook for people. We bought a home this year which is perfect for entertaining. Am I weird or what?

This is less common in my generation. I find politics and work norms annoying, and I am not surprised that I'm the minority.

-- Anonymous

You're not strange. Socializing with co-workers is not uncommon. It is not uncommon for people to socialize with their co-workers. It is not necessary to worry about office politics or overthinking this.

You can throw a great dinner party if you approach it with a positive attitude. Make it clear that your dinner party will be a completely voluntary event. Do not leave anyone out. Share with me what you said, that you wanted to celebrate your hard work and enjoy each other's company. Don't serve too much wine. Create a playlist to play nice music as a background. Talk about something else other than your work. Don't plan too much. Spontaneity can be good. I wish you and your colleagues a wonderful evening.

I started working at a new firm 18 months ago as a manager of a small group. After six months, my director had been fired. I accepted to assume his role while they found a replacement. They have since hired and fired another two directors and hired a third but never started. Since then, I've been in the interim role and was asked to continue doing so while they decide next steps. I was told that I didn't have enough experience to be a director. It has been difficult to perform my duties because I am in an interim position and do not have the formal authority to establish a strategy or make important decisions. I also do not have a supervisor who can help me. I'm paid well and want to stay with the company, but I am frustrated by their stonewalling. What advice can you give me to help resolve this issue?

-- Anonymous, New York City

Interim roles can seem like a thankless job. I can understand your frustration. It is strange that you are asked to act as interim director, and then told you do not have the experience required to be promoted into a director role. I'd meet with your manager to explain the problems you are facing. You've held this role for some time now, so ask if you can still make strategic decisions and plans while in the interim. You might also want to ask whether you and your partner can chart a course for promotion together. If you don't see any results, decide whether the rewards of your job are worth the frustrations.

My young female employee feels uncomfortable when she is around an older male colleague because of the inappropriate remarks he has made. She and the other young women at our office talk about comments that they have also received from him. It has been happening since before I became her manager and he's done an excellent job of hiding it from the management. We work for a large corporation with clear policies on human resources and many reporting options including anonymous ones. After a brief conversation, I was unable to convince her to inform H.R. of the events. She is a noncitizen young person of color who does not believe that anything bad will happen to her. She also does not have enough emotional capacity to deal with the harassment. She avoids him whenever possible. I am a woman of color who is more than ten years older. I believe that resolving the issue through the organization would be stressful, but in the end better. I know that bringing up the issue of reporting to H.R. She will feel that I do not understand or respect her point of view if I continue to bring it up. H.R. has spoken with me. I'm not able to provide more details because I'm unable to identify her. How can I support her while also trying to correct this situation? I am now working on the issue with the manager of the man (also a woman white around my age). I hope things will improve.

-- Anonymous

It is both a delicate and challenging situation. The situation will not improve if nothing is done. Serial sexual harassers do not simply realize their error and stop. You know that he harasses multiple young women at the office. He makes them uncomfortable. You can go to HR and file an anonymous report with everything you know. Continue to be available for the women in your office to offer whatever support they may need. You can honor the wishes of your employee and still hold him accountable if your company offers robust reporting mechanisms.

You are a thoughtful person. Many people are indifferent to predators. This is not the time to be hopeful. This situation calls for action. May justice triumph.

Roxane Gay

She is a contributing writer and the author of "Hunger", her most recent book. You can reach her by email at