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Ask the Headhunter: How to deal with a dishonest boss

Question: My boss lies about the availability of projects, about giving bonuses, and about help she has promised. This affects my motivation to work harder, and it hurts morale in our department. I suppose the high road is the best and I should keep quiet, but I hate giving into this behavior. What can I do?

Nick Corcodilos: Bosses sometimes make commitments then forget about them. What matters is the frequency and the intent of their forgetfulness. Sometimes this is innocent, and a boss just needs some friendly help to remember. It seems your boss forgets a lot, and it’s clear you don’t like the intent.

A long time ago, I learned the value of the internal memo. When your boss commits to something, go back to your desk, write a “thank you” memo, and send it to the boss along with a clear “cc:” to yourself. It’s like money in the bank. You don’t just make a deposit; you keep a copy of the deposit slip.

That cc: is evidence for you, and your boss should get the message that you actually expect her to deliver on her commitments.

This approach to making a boss pay off on promises works pretty well. When you’re ready to collect, present that “deposit slip” you kept in your file. Be very polite and matter-of-fact.

“Hey, Boss: I’m ready for that bonus (or promotion) you promised six months ago. Here’s the memo I sent you re-capping our discussion. Thanks very much for making that very valuable commitment to me way back then. You’re quite a boss, and that’s why I like working for you. I’ll take that bonus in tens and twenties, please!”

One of three things is likely to happen. Your boss may never forget again (success!). Your boss may never make another promise (another problem altogether). Or, your boss might just ignore you. Then it’s time to take your deposit slip to the “bank president” (your boss’s boss or the personnel manager) and explain that you want to close your account – unless the “bank” settles up with you.

For advice about an important kind of broken promise from a boss, see “My boss won’t deliver a promised raise.”

Dear Readers: Does your boss deliver on promises? How do you “collect” on what’s been promised to you at work? Please share some examples from your experience. What advice would you give this reader?

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