Trust Breaker #4: My boss doesn’t protect me

Does your boss protect you?  Do you feel like your boss has your back or are you left to fend for yourself at work?  This is a subtle but deadly trust-breaker.  I had a great conversation a few weeks ago about this very topic and here is what was said: “I like my boss as a person.  But every time our corporate office tries to take resources promised to us, rather than protect us and tell them no, he caves every time.  I don’t feel protected and frankly can’t trust him because of it.”

Here are the most common forms this particular “trust-breaker” takes:

– My boss can’t tell customers “NO” – Ever wonder if your boss simply doesn’t possess the word “no” in his or her vocabulary?   While innocent at first, the ripple effect of this behavior is ugly.  A consultant recently shared with me this story, “my boss can’t tell the client ‘no.’ His inability to say no wreaks havoc on my personal life.  Let me rephrase that, I have no personal life.  The client project I’m working on keeps expanding.  As a result, I have to keep working more and more hours because my boss can’t put his foot down.  He’s lost all of my trust… and he’s about to lose me.”  Is your boss about to lose you?

My boss won’t protect me from my co-worker(s) – Do you have an abusive co-worker that you’ve told your boss about?  Has your boss been reluctant to do anything about the co-worker and his / her behavior?  Bet you don’t feel very protected.  Bet you don’t have very high trust in your boss.  Bet you are planning to stick around much longer.

– My boss doesn’t fight for me (or us) with the higher-ups – Feel like your boss doesn’t have your back when you aren’t around?  One team shared with me that while they like their boss, they know she won’t fight for them in senior meetings.  “We know that if there is a time for sacrifices, our boss will volunteer us… even if that means our jobs.  We all have our resumes ready and are all looking for something more stable.  She may be alone before she realizes it.”

If your boss won’t fight for you, how do you transform them into a fighter?  And can you?  First, the bad news: unfortunately, I have never seen a case where someone was successful in training their boss to be a fighter.  He or she needs to choose that role.  But there are some ways you can push them to make that choice.  Here are the top two approaches you can take:

  1. Gang up on your boss – I’ve seen tremendous impact on a boss when his or her entire team comes to him or her as one and says “we don’t feel protected by you.”  It’s tough to ignore.  And frankly, no one wants to be seen as untrustworthy by their team.  A facilitator may also help you pull this off so consider that path if you want to ensure your boss hears the message.
  2. Tell your boss what this could cost him / her – Don’t be afraid to tell your boss what it’s costing him or her by not protecting you.  Perhaps you feel like your job is in jeopardy or work has become unreasonably stressful because of their actions.  Have the courage to tell him or her that if it continues, you may have to look for something more stable.  This too might be a good message to deliver as a group if you are concerned as to your boss’ reaction.  Only when your boss clearly sees what their actions could cost him or her will they be more likely to change their ways.

A boss that is unwilling to protect us is not only frustrating to work with, but frankly difficult to trust.  And while we all wish we could send them off to a “Rocky Balboa”-style boot camp that would transform them into a fighter, this transformation is more about will than skill.  But with some teamwork and honest conversations, you can push your boss in the right direction.  So get your colleagues together and prepare your talking points.  There may be a fighter in your boss yet.

A note from Brandon
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8 replies
  1. Debbie says:

    A co-worker called me some very offensive names. We had a meeting in which he (my co-worker) stated that not only was he not sorry, he would do it again! My bosses response was to delegate the handling of this matter was to to another supervisor, where I was informed that he had been written up. My boss though did take time out of his very busy schedule (his excuse for not being present for the meeting to confront the issue) to meet with the man who verbally abused me for two hours to help him “deal with his issues”. Meanwhile my boss has not talked to me at all about the incident. It makes me feel that my safety is not as important as this program which is in it grassroots stage, under a national network community service program. I like being on the ground floor of an innovative program, but feel very abused by not only the co-worker but also the director who has not even acknowledged me or my feelings in this matter. Am I expecting too much? Or is it common for a situation like this to be handled in this manner?

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    Unfortunately, your experience is all too common. Bosses rarely handle conflict well and as a result, miss a lot of the steps they need to be having (such as talking to you for instance!). But on that note, you aren’t expecting too much. Here’s what I recommend. Given that you like your job and you enjoy your role, wait 2 weeks to see if things improve with your coworker. If they do, I would recommend not mentioning your concerns at this time. However, if they don’t improve, I would recommend setting up a meeting with the boss and discussing your concerns. If it comes to that, feel free to drop me an e-mail and I would be happy to offer you more help. Good luck and hang in there!

  3. Melody W. says:

    I’m not to sure if this can relate but yesterday, November 11, I had a “trust breaking” experience that I believe may go with my employers inability to say no/confront customer. I work in a 73 room hotel, where I am a server in one of their 3 restaurants. So I have a customer come in, on Veterans Day, with a swastika and SS tattoo. I had seen him before so before he walked into the door I immediately look for one of the 2 managers that were on duty. I asked the one manager, as I was not comfortable doing so, to ask him to cover his tattoo, we had a full restaurant, and I did not want to insult, offend, or ruin any customers experience. The manager came back 10 minutes later saying that we cannot ask him to cover his tattoo. Since I was educated enough to know that yes we could, it is our right as an establishment to ask him to cover it up. My example in this case was if a H.A. Member came in with this “colors” on we have the right “by the law” to ask him to take it off or cover it up. They argued with me and I was very open about how annoyed I was that they would not back me up. They then, during a busy time during the day, pulled me into the office to talk to me about it. They brought out our union book and read “Employees have rights to a discrimination free zone” then told me that it counts for customers too I “shouldn’t discriminate his for his tattoo.” I in turn asked them what they thought this customers tattoo stood for. All they could say to me is “it’s a touchy subject” over and over and over again. They also said they don’t want me to feel like they don’t have my back, which is exactly what this is an example of. They then completely insulted my professionalism, integrity, and ability to do my job because I was “noticeably upset and mad”

  4. Melody W. says:

    Oops pressed send by accident. Anyways I was wonder if anyone had suggestions with the best way to explain to them nicely, that we as employees no longer feel they have our backs, and don’t protect our rights as employees and as an establishment?

  5. Melanie R. says:

    A co worker recently sent me a nasty, hostile email after I made an innocent mistake that wasn’t even big. Instead of confronting my co worker about it, my boss emailed the both of us saying let’s all try to get along. I felt betrayed, especially after she agreed that the nasty email was uncalled for. So my coworker’s hostility goes unreprimanded, not even so much as mentioned it to her. It’s the third time it’s happened. Me, who’s never had an issue with colleagues in my entire professional career now has issues. So now what? I’m pissed off, if I get HR involved its a whole new shitstorm to deal with, and I can barely even look at anyone I’m so angry.

  6. Brandon Smith says:

    I totally understand your frustration and anger. And unfortunately, I’ve heard about these types of occurrences more and more over the last 5+ years. The key is to not let your frustration and anger show. It is natural human behavior to “match levels” of others. In other words, a coworker is angry and lashes out so what do we do? We get angry and lash out to them. My advice is rise about that behavior to protect your brand. If you are always viewed as “positive” and “collaborative,” it will make that person look bad when they attack you. Don’t let them damage your reputation by bating you into acting in a way that is counter to your professional image.

    Good luck and shoot me a note if I can help any further. It would be my pleasure!

  7. Shelly says:

    my boss’ boss totally doesn’t have her back. he’s new, perhaps he doesn’t want to make enemies? but there was this incident where I felt that he shoulda said something to the boss of the other dept but he didn’t. my boss was being accused of not doing her job but frankly, that shoulda been someone else’s job (actually, that other dept’s!). so as a senior manager, instead of making it clear who should do what, he didn’t bother to say anything while he did acknowledge it wasn’t my boss’ fault. she is quite upset about it because now, that other dept still think my boss didn’t do her job right. it’s really annoying! there are too many bosses who don’t care about who does what, as long as the job gets done! when one’s being taken advantage, they have nowhere to go cuz their boss doesn’t stand up for them.

  8. Brandon Smith says:

    Hi Shelly,
    I don’t know if I could find an organization that didn’t have at least one boss avoiding conflict at some point. Unfortunately it is human nature. That being said, a boss’ job is often about embracing conflict in order to drive clarity. It doesn’t sound like he’s doing that very well. Hang in there! Maybe things will turn around once he gets more comfortable.

What do YOU think?

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