The employment experts at Allison & Taylor have offered some great tips for knowing whether your boss has crossed the line of professional behavior.
According to Allison & Taylor, your boss is crossing the line if he or she:
1. Makes references to your salary in front of other staff.
This is private and confidential information, not public knowledge. Other employees don't need to know what you're being paid, and it's true regardless of the type of comment that's made. Whether the boss is saying, "I don't pay you enough" or "I pay you too much," this type of comment will lead to resentment among staff members. Broadcasting your earnings undermines your position with the rest of the staff. They'll either think you're willing to work for peanuts, ruining their chances of earning more, or think that you're overpaid.
2. Reprimands you in front of other employees.
This is a form of bullying, and it's never acceptable. While you may have made a mistake or error that deserves discussion, a good employer will handle this professionally — and in private. A good boss should never denigrate your skills, either, with comments like, "This job is so easy, anyone could do it."
3. Has unreasonable expectations.
Managers need to communicate their expectations for work performance clearly, assist employees when needed, and set reasonable deadlines for projects. This one can be tricky... at times every employee has probably felt that he or she has been dealt an impossible task. But if you're consistently receiving unreasonable demands, you need to speak up. It could be a communication issue; perhaps something as simple as unclear directions are bogging you down. Or it could be a case of micromanagement (in which case, you were hired because the boss felt you were qualified to do your job, and it's fine to remind him or her to let you do it). Just be sure you address it in a courteous and nonconfrontational manner.
4. Shares too many personal details.
This is a work situation, not the therapist's couch. A good boss shouldn't share problems or inappropriate personal details. If you find the conversation often veers in this direction, lead the way by being very brief in your responses and then change the subject back to business. And don't bring your own problems to the office.
5. Makes inappropriate references.
Any comment that makes you squirm is one that shouldn't have been made in the office. This includes water cooler jokes, emails, or comments about your physical appearance. Include in this category any type of implication that the boss is interested in a relationship of a personal nature, even if it's not something you're entirely opposed to. Workplace romances are NEVER a good idea, and it's beyond unprofessional to even make the suggestion. All these things are a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.
6. Implies that sex, race, age, sexual orientation, or religion is a factor in work performance.
None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do the job you were hired to do. The suggestion that it might is not only unfair, it's discriminatory. Address any such implication immediately.
If you find that you're experiencing one or more of these problems with regularity, you need to speak to your boss about your discomfort. This isn't always an easy thing to do, but it's necessary to maintain a professional working relationship. Keep in mind that he or she may not even be aware that it is bothering you. The key is to open up a dialogue that can deal with the issues.
Approach your boss in a free, calm moment, and let him or her know that you feel there are some issues that need to be addressed. Then calmly discuss the issues in an open and honest manner. And always keep in mind that having respect for yourself and your needs will allow the boss to see you're there to do your best work. If discussing with your boss does not change things for the better, then consider going up the chain of command or to HR for help.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.