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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 158 – My boss talks in corporate-speak riddles. Am I obliged to join in?

No. 158 – My boss talks in corporate-speak riddles. Am I obliged to join in?

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5 June 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: circling back on corporate speak, rants from an ultra-conservative boss and a confusing back pay.

I recently started a new role in a consulting firm after 20 years in a different corporate field. My new manager has an unfortunate tendency to over-use corporate speak, which confuses me and our clients. Do I mirror his language to ingratiate myself with him, or do maintain my pledge to speak in plain English at work, and risk him thinking I am a simpleton?

Speak plainly. Say what you mean, be understood clearly by those you work with, and never, I repeat, never, use corporate speak like you are playing a game of buzzword bingo. Far from you sounding like a simpleton, I assure you the smartest people in the room speak so that others understand what they are saying.

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest your manager may be feeling insecure about how little he actually knows and the corporate speak is a way for him to try and appear smarter than he is. Little does he realise it just makes him sound like a muppet, and more than that, makes him ineffective. If clients and employees have no idea what he is talking about he isn’t doing well as a manager anyway. So, to repeat, stick to plain English, always.

I’ve been in my new role for seven months and have come to discover my manager is very right wing and shares his take on trans people, climate change, First Nations rights, and the rest, as though it is gospel. Other team members fall over themselves to agree with him and prop up his deluded views, but I just stay quiet. Is this the right thing to do? The people who agree with him have been promoted or favoured, but the people who disagree or stay silent are given less favourable work and no career growth. I’ve never discussed such topics in the office, nor do I want to, but I feel uncomfortable with his rants.

I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable and frankly, your working environment sounds pretty unpleasant. Regardless of his views, sharing the same views as the boss should not be a pre-condition for promotion. He is, of course, entitled to have an opinion on whatever he likes, but he is not entitled to discriminate, vilify, harass or bully people at work over his views. It sounds like his comments may potentially be breaching workplace laws – or at least be skirting the edges – and it needs to stop. I realise this will be difficult, but you might like to see what your workplace policies say about this kind of behaviour and make a complaint before it escalates further. If you are feeling uncomfortable, there are sure to be others who feel the same way.

I’m a shift worker and one of my colleagues discovered we were being incorrectly paid some of our shift penalties. He successfully fought the company, with the assistance of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and recovered his back pay. The company sent individual letters to all employees impacted, which included a lump sum payment to offset the underpayments. I don’t trust the company and I have asked for a breakdown of how they came to the amount. So far, they have ignored my request. Am I entitled to this information?

The process under the Fair Work Ombudsman makes it clear that after an employer calculates the amount which has been underpaid, they should confirm the back pay arrangements with the employee “including any calculations made to work out how much the employee was underpaid”. So yes, I think you are entitled to the information.

It seems crazy for your employer not to be proactive in providing this information to you given Fair Work has required them to rectify the situation, and they must comply with each step in the process. There also seems to be a significant lack of trust now between the company and their employees, so I would have thought they would want to do everything they could to fix that. I can understand why you may now be wondering if there is something they are hiding. While there probably isn’t, it is poor form from your employer all the same.

Initially at least, I would follow up your initial request and ask if there is a reason it hasn’t been provided. You could confirm providing the calculations is part of the Fair Work process, and you would like to retain them for your records. If there is no response once again, I would speak to whoever was managing the case at the Fair Work Ombudsman, alert them to the situation and ask for advice.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit kirstinferguson.com/ask (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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