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No. 103 – My boss is a perfectionist and it’s killing morale in our team

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19 April 2023

My boss is a perfectionist, and it is causing a huge amount of tension at my work. She rejects any work we do that is not exactly as she asked and will often cause people to spend huge amounts of time second guessing whether the work will pass her extreme standards. I understand the need for things to be of a high quality and always professional, but the level of perfectionism she demands is demoralising because the work we produce never seems to be good enough. Do you have any advice on how to deal with a boss like this? The idea of even raising this issue with her causes me to feel really anxious.

Your boss sounds like she rules by fear and micromanagement, rather than coaching you how to develop your own capabilities and work autonomously. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time is wasted and productivity lost trying to cover all bases, just so you are not criticised. Leading through fear and blame is not the way modern leaders develop their teams, so it sounds like your boss could do with a major leadership overhaul.

Short of her having an epiphany that she needs to rethink how she leads, it is very difficult to ‘manage up’ in a situation like this. Your boss doesn’t sound like she has high levels of self-awareness of the impact her behaviour is having on those around her. I am also guessing she never asks for feedback. The only advice I can suggest is whether, as a team, you and your colleagues could find a way to speak with her together. You can approach it from the perspective of acknowledging a lot of time is lost on making sure the work she wants is done to her standard, and point out other tasks that are unable to be done as a result.

I am going on three weeks holiday overseas next month, and I am really excited. My boss is supportive of my taking leave but has said a couple of times for me to make sure I have my phone with me, just in case he needs to call or in case any important emails come through. I was hoping not to have to take any calls or to check emails while I am away and don’t want to think about work at all. I don’t want my boss to think I am being difficult, so how can I tell him I won’t be available without him holding it against me later?

You are definitely not being difficult by expecting to be left alone for three weeks while on a long-planned overseas holiday. I think you may be best to set some ground rules with your boss before you leave about how you plan to stay connected while you are away. I would let him know you don’t plan to check emails or take calls unless there is an unavoidable emergency that no one else can handle – and if you can – explain what that emergency might be in your particular context, so it is clear. Let him know you are really excited to have some downtime after a busy period and want to come back refreshed and ready to tackle what comes next on your return. Reassure him you will be back soon and can handle anything he needs from you then.

I have recently learnt a co-worker has attended some far-right rallies and participates in online forums with extreme views that are extremely offensive. I don’t know if anyone else knows about this at work and I only learnt about it accidentally through a mutual friend. He must use a pseudonym online since I haven’t been able to find anything he has written online. Should I tell our boss about my concerns and what I have heard? His views are against the values of where we work, and we have colleagues who are non-binary who would be devastated to know he participated in this kind of abhorrent behaviour.

This is a tricky situation. First, I agree with you that any far-right, extreme views which denigrate others are abhorrent. If your colleague was to share these views in the office and with any of your colleagues, he would deserve to lose his job immediately.

The challenge in this situation is you are basing what you know on something a friend has told you, and you have no actual evidence to support it. This is where things get a bit dicey – are you 100 per cent sure your friend is correct? How do they know? Have they seen first-hand his participation in the rallies or in online hate groups?

I think if they do know with certainty and have evidence, then perhaps you can raise this with your supervisor and let them know you have had this information passed on to you. However, it is by no means clear-cut, and I would expect the colleague you are concerned about will have every right to either deny it or claim to be able to have private views that have no impact on their work. I suggest you tread carefully and perhaps speak to someone in HR for advice if you start to see evidence of these views at work.

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