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5 Things You Should (Almost) Never Tell Your Boss

Suzanne Lucas

Communication Is Great, But Too Much Can Kill Your Career

In an ideal world, you should always have an open and honest relationship with your boss.

In the real world, we're human, and our bosses are human. And sometimes humans don't know what to do with a bit of information.

In today's day and age of sharing everything publicly, we can easily forget that there the TM in TMI stands for too much. There are things your boss doesn't need to know about you, so mums the word.

Here are five things you should (almost) never tell your boss. I'll point out a few exceptions below.

Related Article: 5 Things Your Manager Doesn't Want You to Know

1. You Stink as a Boss.

Oh, how tempting this one can be. So many bosses do stink because their bosses never trained them properly. And why did their bosses never train them properly? Because they never received training themselves. It's a vicious cycle. Sometimes, when a boss does something especially annoying, it's tempting to tell the boss off.

Some employees even find themselves in screaming matches with the boss. This never ends well. Do you honestly think that all you need to do is say, "You are a horrible boss! You should do A, B, and C!" and your boss will go, "Oh, she's right! I better change right now!" No, that never happens.

If your boss does stink, you aren't stuck. First of all, you can start looking for a new job. You're not required to stay forever with a bad boss. If the benefits outweigh the downside of working for that person, fine, but recognize you're making a choice. You can also model good behavior. If the boss asks you for suggestions on how she can improve, it's okay to bring up one small thing. "It would be really great if we could get the schedule in advance so we could plan our weeks!" not, "You're late with the schedule, you always give the best shifts to your favorites, you throw me under the bus when I follow company policy, and your breath stinks." One thing.

2. I'm Looking for a New Job.

In ideal land, this is precisely what you should tell your boss. It allows for smooth transitions, and your boss could even use her connections to help you find someplace your skills would be a great fit! Bosses like this exist, so if you have one, go ahead and tell her you're looking.

But, for the rest of us, speaking up about this can be a recipe for disaster. Bosses often take it personally when someone resigns. Telling your boss that you're looking for a new job can be perceived as a slap in the face. Your boss may give you rotten assignments, treat you poorly, or (in a worst-case scenario) say, "then you're fired." Keep your job hunt private until you have a bonafide written offer and have passed their background check.

Related Article: Problems at Work? 10 Signs That It's Not Them, It's You

3. My Coworkers Are Slacking Off.

It's super frustrating when your coworkers are not doing their jobs. It's even more frustrating when their bad behavior falls onto your shoulders. It makes sense that you should let the boss know about this right? Wrong. Why not? Well, here are a few reasons:

  • It makes you seem like a whiny tattle-tale. If you come to the boss and complain about your coworkers, you're likely to be the one that looks bad. Focus on doing your job.
  • You may be completely wrong. Your coworker who you think is a slacker because she's out the door at 4:00 on the dot each day? She negotiated a reduced schedule because of child care issues. Your coworker who never helps with inventory? Could be because the boss assigns her to do something else while you're doing inventory. You look like a fool when you complain about something like this.
  • Your boss already knows. Not all managers are good at managing, but most of them know when someone is a bad employee. Sometimes they are doing things behind the scene--after all they aren't going to sit you down and say, "Just wanted to let you know, you're peer is on a performance improvement plan!" Let your boss do the managing. You do your job.

Are there exceptions here? Yes. If your coworker isn't merely a slacker but violating the law, then speak up. This requires a bit of judgment. Is it a big deal if you coworker eats one piece of candy that is kept on the front desk for customers? Probably not. Is it a big deal if your coworker is dumping the entire bowl of candy into her purse every night before she leaves? Probably.

4. I'm Bored.

What happened when you said this to your mom? You got handed a bucket of water and a scrub brush, right? Unless you want the workplace equivalent of a scrub brush, don't use the "bored" word. You should speak up when you've run out of work, or your work is too easy for you, but do so with a slightly different vocabulary. Here are some suggestions.

  • I've finished up the Peterson project. Would you like me to help Jane with the Schmidt project or should I do something else?
  • I feel like I've got this month end processing running so smoothly I can take on an additional task. I'd love a stretch assignment.
  • I've been doing the monthly headcount reports for a year now. I think it's critical that we have a backup who can do this as well. I was wondering if I could cross train Björn while he trains me to do the EEOC reporting. It would be great learning experience for both of us and make the department stronger.
  • I've been working really hard and doing a great job. I'm very interested in moving up the ladder. What can I do to prepare myself for a promotion?

Related Article: How to Improve Relations Between Your Managers and Employees

5. I Got Totally Trashed at This Party on Friday!

Your boss is not your friend. I know, it can seem like she's your friend. You spend more time with her than you do with your actual friends, and she's friendly and all so it can be deceiving. But, the last thing you want is for her to have a poor impression of you. When you talk about stupid things you did, she's likely to think you're, well, stupid. You don't want to do that.

Your interactions with your boss should always be professional. If you are in a bar, and your boss is there too, consider yourself at work. If you find yourself wanting to say "watch this!" about anything that doesn't involve Excel functions, stop. Yes, be friendly, but don't overshare. Your bad behavior outside of work can be held against you (in most cases). Be smart and keep your private life private.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Suzanne Lucas Member
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about how to make your business a success and your employees happy. Send her an email at