Cursing boss fouling morale

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. I work in a very small medical practice where one of the owners has an extremely foul mouth. Whenever “Dr. Smith” is upset, he curses at employees and frequently drops the F-bomb. This is highly offensive to everyone on the staff, but we’re afraid of losing our jobs if we complain. What can we do about this?

A. The bad news is that small, privately owned businesses provide few options for dealing with difficult owners. The good news, however, is that this medical practice is apparently owned by more than one person. Since another owner can approach Dr. Potty Mouth as a peer, that’s where you should take your concerns.

Because a single complaint can easily be dismissed and ignored, you need to present this problem as a group. Without becoming angry or upset, describe the negative effects of this physician’s behavior.

For example: “When Dr. Smith is angry, he curses at employees using highly offensive language, which is very demoralizing for the staff. If patients hear these outbursts, that could hurt the reputation of the practice. We’re afraid to give Dr. Smith this feedback, so we’re hoping that you can talk with him.”

This assumes, of course, that the other owner is a responsible individual who is also disturbed by these tantrums. But if not, then your only recourse is to find a more professional place to work.

Q. When I was interviewing two years ago, my manager said he would retire in a few years and that I could then take over his job. Since I was hired, however, he has again never mentioned retirement, so there seems to be no definite timeline.

Although headhunters occasionally call me about other opportunities, so far I haven’t explored any of them. I would prefer to remain with this company, but only if I get the expected promotion. Should I ask my boss about his retirement plans?

A. Waiting for someone to retire can be frustrating, especially when that person shows no signs of leaving. But before initiating an awkward conversation, perhaps you should review exactly what your boss said two years ago.

During interviews, applicants can easily mistake a manager’s encouraging comments for a commitment. Making a firm decision about a new hire several years in advance would be strange and foolish, so this promotion may have been more of a possibility than a promise. And since retirement “in a few years” sounds like a vague intention with an open-ended deadline, your boss’s plans may very well have changed.

Despite all that, requesting an assessment of your career potential would be reasonable. So instead of inquiring about your manager’s future, ask him about your own.

For example: “I really enjoy working here and hope to stay with this company for a long time. However, I occasionally get calls from headhunters about other opportunities, so I would like to get your perspective on my career path here. What are your thoughts about that?”

If your boss mentions you as his successor, you can appropriately ask about his retirement plans. But if not, then you can only assume that something has changed in the past two years.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”