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Chester Elton

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What is your boss really thinking?


Have you ever wondered how your boss interprets your actions? Chester Elton answers questions about what bosses really think when their employees exhibit typical workplace behaviours.

What’s my boss thinking when I don’t speak up in a meeting, come in late with an excuse, volunteer to organise all the team private parties and events, or am visibly jealous when someone else on the team is receiving recognition? These questions have probably crossed your mind before, and are typical of what people often ask us. Below you will find our answers, which are a peek inside your boss’s mind:

What does my boss think when I show up for work at exactly nine o’clock and leave at exactly five o’clock?
If you arrive just in time for the daily stand-up meeting and are in your car at 5:01 p.m. every evening, the message you’re probably sending is that you’re just there to punch the clock. You don’t really care. Try using the fifteen minute rule, which says if you’re in fifteen minutes early and stay about fifteen minutes late, you’re showing that you are engaged. In this economy you’ve got to be focused on the task at hand, not the clock. Get the job done, which sometimes means working past 5pm.

What is my boss thinking when I don’t speak up in a meeting?
Your boss probably thinks you’re a new form of wallpaper instead of an energised, engaged go-getter. It also looks particularly bad if he catches you playing a game on your BlackBerry. Employees who get promoted most often stay focused in meetings and chime in with intelligent comments. With that said, we don’t recommend you become a ‘chatter box’ and caution you not to be the person who’s always trying to one-up everybody or only add negative remarks. Now, what if you’re naturally shy? If you would rather eat glass than speak up in a meeting, then think about a thoughtful follow-up email to the team that says, "I’ve been thinking about the project. How about we try…?"

What is my boss thinking when I come in late with an excuse?
"The car broke down," "the traffic was horrible". My father taught me these words to live by: excuses, even when valid, are never impressive. To illustrate, I was getting my tooth fixed the other day and asked my dentist, "What do you do when an employee shows up late, but with an excuse?" The dentist gave the example of their receptionist Sue. Her car had broken down just the day before, on the way to work. Sue found the closest station, caught the next train, walked to work from there and was still 10 minutes early. Now that’s impressive. And great employees impress.

What does my boss think when I am talking with my co-workers in non-work-related conversations?
Most bosses know that it’s valuable to have a team that connects with each other now and then on last night’s TV shows, what the weekend was like, or who’s leading the office Fantasy Football rankings. But if your boss hears you talking about non-related issues too often, you run the risk of being labelled not only as a slacker but a distraction to others. Keep those personal conversations short and in small groups. A large, long gathering with you in the middle sends bad signals all over the workplace.

What does my boss think when I give feedback, some of which is critical, of his/her work?
Public criticism of your boss is never a good idea. Even in joking. Great teams support each other and their leaders. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with their ideas. Pick your battles sparingly, make your arguments to their face and not behind their back, and do it in private. Public dissension sends signals you are trying to undermine your boss or that you may even be gunning for their job.

What is my boss thinking when I’m visibly jealous when someone else is receiving praise?
We’ve all probably seen this happen, or perhaps you’ve been the jealous one. The scene is familiar: Ryan is getting an award, and you look around and can almost hear some of your team members’ thoughts: "That should have been me," "If the boss were paying attention they’d have seen me do the same thing last week." Body language can send poor messages. Don’t be a sore loser; be a team builder. Be happy and gracious for those receiving praise. In fact, be the person who recommends others for such recognition. And if you’re the recipient, be a gracious winner. We wouldn’t recommend, for example, that you hold up a giant foam No. 1 finger during your moment under the lime light.


Chester Elton is an employee engagement consultant and senior vice president of global employee recognition company, O.C. Tanner

3 Responses

  1. Did I over-react?

    Ok, so perhaps I was a little touchy. However, I found the tone a bit 1970s. We are grown up enough now to recognise that our bosses (and remember that a lot of your readers will be the bosses of some of your other readers) are real humans, just like us (well, nearly). They may not notice if we clock watch because they are always late in and first out! Perhaps they care more about the work we do in our hours rather than the hours we do in our work. They too play solitaire on their PDAs (I know one of my bosses did). I could go on (but won’t – my boss might wonder what I am doing and it’s soon time to go).

  2. Not meant that way

    To RTowers,

    I am sorry you felt patronised by this article. It was certainly not the author’s intention for it to be taken that way. It was meant to be a slightly light-hearted look at office politics and typical employee situations, and what may be the right or wrong way to react to certain scenarios. That’s all.

    Kind regards,

    Lucie Mitchell

  3. What is your boss really thinking?

    Perhaps a future article could be ‘what do HR-zone readers really think when they are patronised by articles like this’?


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