Q I am employed by a dentist who is a specialist. He has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. For the most part the staff has learned to deal with this, but not accept it. The rest of the staff has been with him for years, as have I. Our boss is generous in many ways, but his behavior often leaves us wondering if it is all worth it.
We are told to take an unpaid hour off for lunch, yet we are expected to pick up the phone and deal with his interruptions. The company he hired to do payroll handed us an office manual with the intended rules, yet it states they can change the rules at any time because he is an “at will” employer. I checked with a state agency and they agree.
Everyone in the office is grateful to be employed, but at the same time we are frustrated by the lack of respect we receive from him and by the overall standards that apply to “at will” employees. When we try to talk to him on issues, we are reminded of our place in this office with a you-can-move-on-if-you-want reply.
He knows that is not possible for most of us. What I’m looking for is guidance from someone at how to approach an unequal situation.
A Tabitha, the great unspoken topic in psychology is dominance. People resist even bringing up the subject. What people are more than willing to talk about is communication skills. There the core idea is: I believe this, you believe that, and I can get you to change your actions through some words.
It is all misdirection. If there were a simple way to make your boss agree with what you are saying, then you could, for example, make anyone come to your religion. All you would have to do is figure out the right words to say, and they would accept your way of thinking.
Words don’t determine behavior, power does. In most situations, one person or group has power. What they say goes. People love to explain behavior in ethical, economic or social terms, but behavior most often comes down to a simple matter of power.
The easiest representation of power is dollars. I have so many dollars, so I can send my kids to the best schools. You cannot. I can buy lobbyists and influence. You cannot. Rightly or wrongly, your boss has a sense of entitlement in the workplace. His people are telling him the legal minimum requirements he has to meet, and that is where he is drawing the line.
Someone like you, in a subordinate position, can make inroads only by being creative. In a weak position, you must act like a martial artist. You can step to one side or use your opponent’s leverage against him, but a direct counterattack will not work.
As a staff, find ways to minimize the lunch interruptions. On Monday one person might handle the phones; on Tuesday someone else. If one of you is disturbed at lunchtime, then find ways to lessen that day’s burden on her. Supporting and caring for one another will lessen the stress of the job.
Since your boss has a generous side, try assaulting him with kindness. That often defuses people who are carrying an emotional load they cannot discharge. Even small actions, like bringing a plant to the office or voting for candidates who support your view of employee rights, will make you feel better.
Some people reading your letter would count you lucky to be working in an educated, safe, clean environment. Many people work in dangerous environments for little pay. But what it comes down to is this. You know where your boss sits, you know where the law sits, now look for the parries and countermoves which work for you and the rest of the staff.
Wayne & Tamara
Invade – to enter as if to take possession, to intrude upon.