Although some tasks are obviously out of bounds, others are less so—which is why bosses also shouldn’t use their powers to:
Make employees feel they should attend “social” events.
No matter where they happen to be, whenever employees are with people they work with, it’s as though they’re at work. Whatever happens there doesn’t stay there; it comes back to work.
Embarrassing behavior aside, some people simply don’t like to socialize outside work. And that’s their choice—unless a boss does something to make them feel they should attend. Then what was probably intended as a positive get-together becomes anything but.
Keep in mind that “pressure” can be as simple as saying, “Hey, Joel, I hope you can come to the Christmas party.” All you might be doing is letting Joel know you enjoy his company, but if he doesn’t want to attend, this is what he hears: “Joel, if you don’t come to the party, I will be disappointed in you.”
The best outside social events have themes that work for employees. Maybe it’s a kids’ Christmas party. Or a picnic at a theme park. Or taking interested staffers to a sporting event. The right move is to choose one or two broad themes that cover the majority of employees’ interests, and let that be that.
Bottom line: Never try to force camaraderie or togetherness. It doesn’t work.
Make employees feel they should donate to a charity.
The United Way was the charity of choice at a previous employer, and the company’s goal was 100 percent employee participation.
Pressure enough? It got worse; every supervisor reported results from their direct reports to the head of fundraising—who was also the plant manager.
The United Way is a great charity, one worthy of support. But bosses should never, even implicitly, pressure employees to donate time or money. Sure, make it easy, and match contributions if you can, but make donations voluntary, and never leave the impression that results are monitored on an individual basis.
Please don’t do the “support my kid’s fundraiser” thing either.
Bosses should never make employees feel that what they do with their money is the company’s business.
Ask an employee to do something another employee was asked to do.
You assign Marty a project. Then you find out Marty hasn’t finished and probably won’t. You’re frustrated with Marty, and you really need to get it done—so you plop it on Sarah’s desk because you know Sarah will come through.
She will, but she’ll also resent it. She might be gratified to know you feel you can count on her, but she definitely won’t be thrilled about having to pull another person’s weight.
Leave Sarah alone. Deal with Marty.
Cause employees to go without food at mealtime hours.
Say you go to a 5 p.m. wedding. If there’s a reception afterward, you expect that a meal will be served, rig
ht? Bosses shouldn’t invite employees out for after-work drinks at 6 p.m. That hour makes it a company dinner, not company drinks.
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Lunchtime meetings are the same. If it’s a working lunch, provide food. Some employees go out to eat, so if there’s no food, they’re stuck.
Always err on the side of caution. If you order pizza for a group and you run out, some employees won’t remember they had two great slices; they’ll only remember they wanted a third—and you were too “cheap” to provide it.
Ask employees to evaluate themselves.
Any employee who does a great job always questions the need for self-evaluations. Doesn’t the boss already know they do a great job? On the flip side, employees who do a poor job rarely rate themselves as poor, which turns what could have been a constructive feedback session into a potential argument.
Self-evaluations may sound empowering or inclusive but are almost always a waste of time. If it’s feedback you want, ask how you can help develop their skills or further their career.
That’s information every employee will be glad to share.
Ask employees to evaluate their peers.
I’ve done peer evaluations. They’re no fun. “Peer” means “work with.” Who wants to criticize people they need to work with? Claim evaluations are confidential all you want, but people always figure out who said what about whom.
Bosses should know employee performance inside-out. If they don’t, they should never use employee peers as a crutch. Great bosses dig in, pay attention, and truly know the people they lead.
Reveal personal information in the interest of “team building.”
I once took part in a transformational leadership offsite. We were told to make small boxes out of cardboard. (Why do offsites always seem to involve arts and crafts?) We were told to cut out magazine photos that represented the “outer” us, the part we show to the world.
Then we were told to write down some things no one knew about us on slips of paper, put the papers inside our box (get it?)—and reveal our secrets to the group when it was our turn.
I was OK with putting pictures on the outside of my poorly constructed box, even though my lack of scissor skills was a tad embarrassing. I didn’t want to create “reveal” strips, though, and said so.
“But why not?” the facilitator asked.
“Because those things are private,” I said.
“That’s the point!” he cried. “The goal is to reveal things people don’t know about you.”
“They don’t know those things about me, because I don’t want them to know those things about me,” I said.
“But think about how much better you will be able to work together when you truly know each other as individuals,” he said.
“Knowing a person’s secrets doesn’t help me work better with that person. Plus sometimes I think it’s possible to know too much,” I said. “If Pete and his wife like to dress up as “Star Wars” characters on their date nights, that’s cool for them—but I’d really rather not know.”
(I stuck to my guns and didn’t end up participating, a potentially career-limiting move that turned out fine when upper management’s focus shifted from “Transformational Leadership” to “Back to Basics” and voila! I was back in vogue.)
Bosses don’t have to know their employees’ innermost thoughts and feelings. More important, they have no right to their innermost thoughts and feelings. They do have a right to expect solid performance.
Talk about performance, and leave the deep, dark secrets where they belong.
Ask employees to alert them when they “veer off course.”
One of my bosses was long-winded. He realized it and asked me to signal him whenever I thought he was monopolizing a meeting. I gave him the signal a couple of times; in each case he irritatedly waved me off, probably because he felt what he was saying was just too darned important.
Bosses should never ask employees to monitor their performance. To the employee it’s a no-win situation.
Ask employees to do something they don’t do.
Not something a boss “wouldn’t” do, but that a boss doesn’t do. Would is irrelevant. Actions are everything. So lead by example. Once in a while, help out with the crappiest jobs. Not every time, but definitely some of the time.
Employees may never care as much as their boss, but they will care a lot more—and will be willing to do whatever it takes—when they know their boss is also willing to do whatever it takes. Once in a while, “all hands on deck” really should mean “all.”
Think it doesn’t matter? It’s been 25 years, but I still remember the plant manager helping us load trucks at midnight in an attempt to meet a crucial customer deadline. We worked our butts off because we weren’t just told how much it mattered—we could see how much it mattered.
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.