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I am in a situation where my boss has, on more than one occasion, "gone to bat" for me and personally duked it out with superiors, HR, and the customer to argue in favor of keeping me employed with the company. He was successful. I am completely convinced that my job was in real jeopardy in at least one of the situations, but the second situation was perhaps not as severe. This was not a disciplinary or performance issue, but an "HR" issue related to my ability to meet the job's hiring requirements, which are stringently defined by the customer (a government entity).

Given that my boss has put his own reputation on the line and successfully saved my job, I feel like I need to return the favor. Aside from working on my assigned work with vigor, attention to detail and a strong sense of ethics and pride, is there anything I can do to repay my boss without looking like I'm sucking up to them?

It gets even worse. My company is one that periodically gives out "token" awards (some of them come with no gift and no money; others come with a small gift; very few come with a substantial monetary award). The number of awards they give out is fixed and it happens on a quarterly basis. I recently received two awards in the same quarter -- one involving a nice gift and one with just a printed award on nice paper. I learned later that my boss was directly responsible for nominating me.

It could be that my boss feels very strongly that I am just a perfect fit for the job and am exceeding expectations, but in my merit increase (raise) review, I was parked at what was essentially a solid "B" rating (on a scale of A+ through F). So that on its own didn't give me the sense that I am a top 5% employee, only just above average.

I often hear my boss having stressed phone conversations and they seem extremely busy and overloaded with burdens -- moreso lately than any other time, and I've been working the same job full time for almost a year and a half. Is it appropriate to ask to take something off the boss's plate, even if I'm already fairly busy, and maybe work on it during off hours (after the normal 8 hours have passed)? It is safe to assume that some of the tasks the boss undertakes directly are ones that I could help with in some significant way, which would alleviate a significant time investment from the boss and is unlikely to require considerable review or re-work.

If my work output on the routine assignments (which are doled out to me by lower-level senior employees, not directly by my boss) is only of "B" quality, I don't think I'm repaying my boss enough to make them think that going to bat for me was the right thing to do. I don't anticipate them being placed in that situation again, but I want to answer accordingly for all the confidence that's been placed in me.

Ancillary information: My situation is in the United States public sector, with the nature of the work being, essentially, software development and testing. However, the answers probably shouldn't be greatly impacted by this info; don't answer the question with specifics about the US public sector or software development.

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3 Answers 3

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Has your boss been known to put himself on the line for people or he's doing this just for you? I ask this so you're not unnecessarily guilted into a long term favour-repaying mission.

The most solid way to repay confidence and faith placed in you is to vindicate and justify that input with solid output. And you're aware that there is a need for more hands on deck.

It's safe to offer your time and effort to your boss (above and beyond the call of normal working hours) seeing as he's done the same in your favour. Try not to think of it as a favour while you're at it, more like justifying his input in your career. At the barest minimum, he'd appreciate the gesture (even if he declines) and know you're not just a taker and you also own a conscience.

Should you choose to accept more responsibility however, be sure to not carry too much or more weight that you're sure you can safely handle. All your goodwill reserves will go down the tank if you end up botching your assignments because you've bitten more than you can chew. Few good deeds go unpunished!

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You don't owe your boss anything. If you are doing a good job and your boss recognizes you for it, you've already "paid" for this recognition - there is NO reason to feel compelled to work outside work hours for the sake of repaying a "debt" or some sort the OP feels. –  enderland Oct 20 '12 at 4:22
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The boss didn't owe the OP the function of sticking his neck out for him, even when as the OP candidly admits he could've been canned. His boss went out on a limb for him. Is it so far fetched to assist with some work-related task an hour or two beyond 5:00PM? I'm not saying the OP should pickup his drycleaning. But take on one extra project he's capable of? Absolutely –  kolossus Oct 20 '12 at 5:06
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@enderland, not everything in the workplace needs to be by the company handbook. Of course you don't owe your boss, but a little niceness here and there and small tokens of appreciation go a long way to building teams and relationships. –  kolossus Oct 20 '12 at 5:17
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As a boss I consider this part of the job. Protecting the people who help me deliver software. A simple "Thank you" would be good enough for me. The more I can shield developers from politics and money concerns the more time they have for coding and enjoying their job. –  Craig Nicholson Oct 24 '12 at 14:43

An easy step you can take is to approach your manager and have a meeting to discuss

Hello $(BOSS), I was wondering what it would take for me to improve my performance from a solid B to an A- or even A

and have a conversation about this subject. You might even find out they really wanted to give you an A+ rating but because of budget constraints or some other completely unrelated reason could not.

For bonus points, writeup a proposal for additional responsibilities you can perform, and come the perspective of:

I was thinking about how to increase my performance from a B player to an A player - this is what I had in mind as to the steps to get there, what do you think?

That being said, I find it strange you do not seem to know why your boss is supportive of you. It seems your relationship with your boss could also benefit from increased communication (this could play into the above conversation) - if you are really getting this much indirect support I really am surprised you do not have a quite clear understanding as to why this happens.


One last note - this is a business relationship. Managers enjoy having quality employees because it lets them do their job easier and better. If your manager thinks you add considerable value to his group, as seems to be the case, it is in his interest - both personally and professionally - to keep you employed.

I would strongly caution against feeling obligated to "return a favor" for the sake of decisions your manager makes from a business perspective.

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You just mentioned that, my boss feels very strongly that I am just a perfect fit for the job and am exceeding expectations.

If you are regular enough, completing assignments on time and your boss is extremely satisfied with the outputs you are providing, then there's nothing wrong that your boss stood beside you in case of any job related issue of yours.

In my case, we have to report to our team leader and we dont have direct interaction with the HR folks. We are upto the expectations of our TL. We mostly have some salary and incentives related issues every month. In every case, our TL speaks for us with the HR people.

So its fair enough for your boss to stand beside in your problem.

However, if your problem was severe enough, that it could put fingers on the boss's potential, then you could ask for what you can do to make up for the damage that is done.

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