9

I work in IT. Recently there was a computer issue that cost the company about 4k. It wasn't preventable, predictable, or my fault. However, it did happen under my watch. When I explained the situation to my boss, taking full responsibility, he made a few extremely unprofessional comments.

  1. 'I shouldn't have trusted you'
  2. 'I leave for one day and this is what you do'
  3. hinted that he should fire me. really. over 4k. It'll cost him more to find someone else.

I like the company I'm at. The pay isn't amazing, but it's enough and there's something to be said for the quality of opportunities here.

How can I tell my boss that it simply isn't nice to say these things to anyone without putting my job at risk or being confrontational? Should I just suck it up? Have you found that standing up for yourself is beneficial at work?

In my 5 months here, he's been pretty decent and not micro-managey at all. Just this incident kinda opened my eyes to what he really thinks.

  • 13
    What would be your goal in telling your boss your opinion of his comments? How much does your boss understand about your job and its responsibilities? What leads you to believe that this single incident is a better indicator of your boss' thoughts than the other five months' worth of interactions you've had with him? Why did you take responsibility for a problem that couldn't be foreseen or prevented, and how, specifically, did you do so? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Mar 1 at 19:11
  • 1
    @upper_case - you should really write an answer instead of posting all that in a comment. – AndreiROM Mar 1 at 19:14
  • 1
    @Upper_Case very good questions...I'll do my best to think through them. 1) My goal is just to stand up for myself. not something I do very often. I'm kinda introverted. 2) My boss has a good general understanding of what I do. He doesn't get the technical bits. 3) In these past 5 months, my boss has been decent. he keeps to himself for the most part and lets me do my work. I can't prove that this is really what he thinks, but in the absence of any evidence otherwise, I'm leaning towards it. Hope that clarifies. – Joe B Mar 1 at 19:17
  • 6
    In my experience, taking responsibility for something that's not your fault is generally a bad idea. It just gives people an excuse to throw you under the bus. – AffableAmbler Mar 1 at 19:41
  • 2
    Eat a slice of humble pie and move on – solarflare Mar 4 at 0:46
12

Instead of focusing on your boss's behavior, you should focus on your own IT competence and ability to recover.

By now, pointing fingers or disputing rudeness probably won't accomplish much. Since this was an isolated incident rather than a recurring issue, it doesn't seem like your relationship with your boss warrants confrontation.

Also, definitely don't suggest that the company should overlook a "measly 4k" loss. It's within the company's interest to prevent any unnecessary losses, and it's not your place to decide the budget or whether certain losses are acceptable.

Instead, it would be more productive if you learned from this experience and proved your technical skills, such as adapting and recovering in the wake of an IT incident. You can effectively "stand up" by demonstrating why the company should keep paying you.

Investigate why and how the event happened, and document your findings. Suggest countermeasures that the IT department should take to prevent such events in the future.

  • Thanks. Definitely the most helpful. I'd only add that my boss's boss doesn't think it is a big deal. It is pretty small compared to other stuff the company does. Sure it's not ideal, but I like that you say to learn from the failure and take steps to prevent future losses. I think you've got the best solution here. – Joe B Mar 2 at 4:25
  • The last paragraph here is gold. Often what defines a good employee is how he copes and handles failures. And yet, a report besides showing initiative on your part, is yet another chance to show it would have happened anyway. – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 2 at 18:44
  • 2
    “over a measly 4k” - This is a bad attitude to have. It’s not your 4K dollars. It might not be that measly depending on the budget constraints of the company. If it wasn’t preventable, it’s not clear, the reason you took responsibility for the event. Think of it this way, that 4K, was nearly 20% of your entire remaining budget for the project.. Your manager has to go to their boss and explain the reason their projected monthly budget tripled over night.. – Donald Mar 3 at 2:10
  • 3
    To add to this: Your boss is making this a personal problem. You can rise above his behavior by analyzing this as a systemic problem: What weaknesses in the way things are run allowed this event to happen? This analysis should not include any personal recommendations, e.g. firing people; The next people in the job might fail the same way! Instead, the question is: What systems can be put in place to help people succeed instead of fail? Everyone has an off day now and then. Great systems help people avoid making expensive mistakes even during off days. – user1602 Mar 3 at 8:51
7

From what's written, I don't think you should.

I think I know where you're coming from. It feels like it would be great to tell your boss. But, based on my experience, it won't work out that way. Here are my reasons why, as they relate to this specific situation:

1. Your boss may not know enough detail to respond meaningfully at all

If your boss is not knowledgeable or skilled enough to grasp the problem in sufficient detail, he's not going to know what to make of the problem itself. All he knows about is the outcome, which was bad. Since you're the expert he assigned to oversee this area of the business, all he knows is that that bad thing happened on your watch.

2. You took responsibility

I don't know exactly how you approached or phrased it, but if you took responsibility for the problem then you're declaring that the problem was in some substantial way your fault. This is especially problematic if your boss can't assess the issue without access to your expertise, since you are then tasked with bearing the blame and also trying to express that the problem was unpredictable and not preventable.

Additionally, those two (unforeseeable but your fault) are hard to blend. It's not surprising (though still not necessarily acceptable) that your boss is focusing on the part that he can more easily evaluate (that it was your responsibility, and something bad happened).

I don't know what the specific issue was, but if your comments about the problem being impossible to predict or prevent are accurate, I'm not sure why you would take responsibility for it. This may be confusing your boss as well. If it truly were your fault, your boss wouldn't be wrong to blame you.

3. Your boss is accountable to his own bosses

Your boss is still responsible to his superiors for this issue and its consequences, and if he can't speak to the technical end then pointing to personnel is all he has available. Whether or not you feel that $4000 is a lot or an inconsequential amount, your boss' bosses' opinions on the matter will be vastly more important to him.

Your assertion that the loss is too little to care about arrogates you to your boss' role, discounts any possibility that he might need something you yourself do not, and is itself somewhat rude and unprofessional. This does not justify your boss' tirade, but neither does it make a riposte from you more appropriate.

4. It's not clear that this incident reveals your boss' true feelings

This sounds like a stressful situation, and one about which your boss has some fundamental lack of knowledge and ability to appreciate fully. That he spoke to you in a derogatory and unprofessional way isn't necessarily acceptable, but it's not clear to me that it should outweigh the five months' worth of perfectly acceptable interactions you've had with him.

That five months' experience is evidence that the worst interpretation you can think of may not be true. It seems like you're just letting this single experience overshadow everything else you've observed because it was unpleasant for you. That would be an error.

5. What are you even hoping to achieve in telling your boss he was rude to you?

If your entire goal is something abstract, like to "stand up for yourself", you might want to abandon the whole idea. After all, it doesn't sound like you've actually suffered any consequences (aside from that one unpleasant interaction). If things go well, you'll still have to work with this person and deal with any fallout from confronting him. And you may find that having "stood up for yourself" is worth less than you imagined.

If your goal is something more specific, like to prevent your boss from speaking to you this way in the future, you'll have to reflect on whether or not telling your boss he was rude to you is a useful part of that effort. He probably knows that those comments were not polite or delicate, but either felt they were appropriate or simply allowed his anger to erupt. Whatever the case, telling him something he already knows will probably not be helpful.

I think that a more useful goal would be to reflect on how you might have presented the situation to your boss in a way that was more comprehensible to him, and a more accurate representation of the situation. If the problem was unpreventable, taking full responsibility is tricky, and it might be better to discuss countermeasures to prevent or mitigate future unpredictable, unpreventable problems.

tl;dr: I think that you're viewing this through the lens of your subjective response to your boss, and not with a more objective eye that considers the broader situation. Even if it would be emotionally satisfying for you to tell your boss off (which I do not concede), virtually every other consequence I foresee is bad for you and your career. I just don't see much upside potential for you here, so dropping the issue and moving on seems appropriate and desirable.

  • Not having been there, I can't tell for certain, but the post feels like the boss was more grousing rather than complaining. I've had bosses say similar things over larger and smaller amounts, when it was clear to me they were just complaining for the sake of complaining and relieving some tension. The big difference I think was that I didn't feel guilty, I didn't accept the blame, and I understood they were overall very pleased with my work, so weren't about to fire me. – Ed Grimm Mar 2 at 18:47
3

In short, you don't.

You cannot at the same time accept blame, and then complain about the consequences. You got chewed out. It happens.

I think you need to adjust your outlook a bit. 4K is no small amount to loose. Here, they go nuts if a cable is lost. IT budgets are notoriously tight, and your boss is likely to get chewed out worse than you.

Take your boss's feelings into account, and see things from HIS perspective, because you can be sure that HIS bosses are going to be wondering why this happened on HIS watch.

Furthermore, take a step back.

What would telling him that he was rude achieve? Right now, I think he's far more concerned about how his bosses are going to react?

If you bring it up, do you think it's possible that he might be thinking "Dammit! I'm about to get my butt handed to me, and this guy is upset about my TONE!?"

Step back, take your beating, move on. Find out how it happened and what needs to be done to prevent it in the future, write it up in a document, and have it ready for your boss when he calms down.

2

Starting a conversation about how he reacted won't be productive. Other answers have covered this. However, you can still talk with your boss about what happened productively. You do that by treating it as a learning opportunity and asking for guidance:

So I can learn from this, how should I have handled that differently?

If your boss thinks the loss was avoidable, it'll come out in that conversation and then you can talk about why you think it wasn't. Either you missed something or your boss is operating on a faulty assumption; either way, it's good to clear that up. More broadly, if your boss thought you should have done something differently, this is an invitation for him to educate you.

Enter the conversation as someone trying to improve. If it turns out that no improvement was possible (you did everything you could), your boss will probably figure that out during the conversation. If he is gracious he'll then apologize for jumping on you, but if he doesn't, don't push. Your goal isn't the apology; your goal is to make sure you and your boss are on the same page and that, if there is something you should have done differently, you learn what that is.

1

There are things that you cannot leave uncontradicted. "I shouldn't have trusted you" and "you should be fired for this" are unacceptable. They go directly to the heart of your working relationship. And I assume that the issue would have happened and cost the company $4k if he had been there, right?

So tomorrow, after making sure the problem was really not preventable or predictable, you write an email where you explain what happened, and that it wasn't preventable or predictable. And then you write what he said: That you shouldn't been trusted, and that you should be fired for this. And ask what his opinion about these things is today.

He can either backtrack and say that these things were said in the heat of the moment. If he is any good as a boss he will also admit that he shouldn't have said these things. Or he doesn't backtrack - in which case you work under the premise that he meant it. Which means looking for a new job, and quitting, and since he doesn't think you should be trusted but should be fired, he have no responsibility to quit at a time when it doesn't interfere with the company.

(This doesn't mean of course that a company never should fire anyone making expensive mistakes - but it should only happen when these mistakes are really the employees fault, and it should never be a threat. The threat is counter productive, as we're seeing here).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.