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11 things feds should never tell the boss

There are certain things you should never tell your boss. You’re late and disheveled because you knocked back a few last night. You missed a deadline because you were glued to a reality-TV marathon. You failed to show up to a meeting because you just didn’t feel like going.

In many cases, it’s better to just bite your tongue than to overshare with your boss, especially if you're a federal employee and under more scrutiny than ever. Avoiding those awkward foot-in-mouth moments is not only a must but it can end up saving you a lot of trouble -- even your job.

So what are some real-life examples of remarks feds have made to their bosses that they shouldn’t have? I asked Diane Hansen Denholm, former fed and current vice president at consulting firm North Highland, to share some of the off-limits remarks she had heard throughout the years. Together with her team she came up with 11 examples that perfectly illustrate occasions where silence would have been golden.

1. “You know I’m eligible to retire.”

2. “That’s not in my job description.”

3. “I did a pretty good job this year; here is my write-up for my monetary award”

4. “I really don’t want to go to that meeting, can’t you handle it by yourself?”

5. “Congress doesn’t really need to know this stuff.”

6. “I’m not sure where I got that data.”

7. “I prefer to work alone; I’m not good at working on teams”

8. “I can’t meet your deadline.”

9. “I have always had a crush on you.” (Said during a negative performance review.)

10. “I know you’re a woman…”

11. “I don’t know why you need that information.”

What are some other inappropriate comments you’ve heard as a manager? Have you heard your colleagues say something they shouldn’t? Share your stories in the comments. Here, oversharing is welcome.


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:03 AM

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Reader comments

Sun, May 13, 2012 RicknATL

The article assumes there are some federal managers who are relatively competent. The reality is quite the opposite. In government, those who are incapable of performing their duties, but are good at being "yes men/women", are made managers. Even though they have little if any management skills. Someone once said that the only thing government managers do, is sit around and think of ways to make themselves look important. Often to the detriment of those they supposedly manage.

Thu, May 10, 2012 fedgrrl washington, dc

I disagree with #2 and #3. We all know fed supervisors who want to give the best workers the most work to do - even if it doesn't relate to anything in the position description. This is a management failure and flat out wrong. I have filled two FTE positions and it almost killed me. I won't do it again and have refused to sign EPPES elements that were arbitrarily changed to include work not remotely included in my PD. As for #3 - I wouldn't put it quite that way, but why not make it easier for your boss to recommend you for a monetary award by providing the write up?

Sun, May 6, 2012

As for #11, there can be situations where your boss doesn't have a need to know everything that you do, especially if you handle sensitive information.

Fri, May 4, 2012 Keith JAX

After constantly remining staff of repeated errors or correcting them when they "stray" from compling with rules/regulations the response is usually "We are all adults and you do not have to keep remining us." Just makes me wonder then why do you act like children. Or even worse, like teenagers! The other comment heard a lot is "I have a friend that works for XXXX and they allow them to [pick a personnel practice violation] so why can't we." My response to that one is "then why aren't you working where your friend works."

Fri, May 4, 2012 Robert Orlando

"So when are you due?" (comment by a consultant to a client associate who was a bit overweight - not pregnant).

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