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Should I rat out my boss?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

My manager, who is a bruiser as a personality type, has drawn the ire of managers of his rank in other departments for refusing to work on their programs or undermining the work when he does allow members of our department to participate in it. (We are a specialty department with a mission to provide our expertise within and across the organization.)

He also tends to treat employees in our department as though they are more support than professional staff. His behavior includes: micro-management of start of day/end of day, including for top performers; obsessive monitoring of the details of work in which he also has expertise; working seven days a week to both manage and to maintain his dominance in his area of expertise; reading emails over employee's shoulders, possibly reading electronically; crowding employees physically in their offices; and losing his temper with staff as well as with other managers at his rank. The last is a persistent problem.

Basically, this is someone who does not adhere to professional or personal boundaries well. But he is, nonetheless, effective in demanding people do things and appears to present well up the hierarchy.

During this performance review season, I was asked to provide an evaluation of my boss in confidence by his boss. My initial thought was to avoid doing so, partly because I suspect he reads employee email, partly because I do not understand the dynamic up the hierarchy (who supports him, who does not, it's not uniform). Yesterday, I got a follow up email pushing me to submit an evaluation. I could recite a laundry list of bad behavior, but I think a vague description of the anger problem is probably best. What do you think?

You are wise to be cautious when trashing your boss. There are numerous problems, and (unfortunately) problematic bosses also tend to be utterly irrational when confronted by their bad behavior. Micro-managing, boundary busting managers who scream at people don't take kindly to people going over their heads to higher management or behind their backs to HR.

However, in this case, it's his boss who is coming to you. This makes all the difference in the world. It's not a situation where higher management (at least not all of it) is ignoring the problem. You're in a situation where his manager is desperately trying to handle the problem.

Doe that mean there won't be fall out that smacks you in the face? Of course not. It all depends on your boss's boss. If she is the type that will take your evaluation in and thrust it into your boss's face and say, "See! Even your star performer thinks you're a jerk!" well, then don't. But, since this has been asked in confidence, I would be willing to take the risk to detail the very real problems.

Now, in detailing them, I mean give specific examples. Don't write, "He's a micro-manager!" Write, "During the course of project X, I received 42 emails from boss regarding minor details, including A, B, and C, frequently multiple times per day" or whatever the true situation is. Micro-managing can be very difficult to define on paper, as it can seem far more like a feeling of being monitored and crushed.

The temper problem should also be documented with specific examples. Not just that he's a screamer, but what he screams about, when, and who the victim is. Frequency also matters here. A one time screaming fest because the company lost a major client or a server crashed is very different from daily yelling.

Because you're concerned about email monitoring (which, by the way, is perfectly legal and more bosses probably do this than we think), you can always do this the old fashioned way and actually hand a piece of paper in. It seems so strange, but honestly, for years people did it that way. You should also make a copy of what you wrote and keep it at home, not the office.

If you want things to get better, though, you need to take the risk to speak up when asked. As long as you write it in a business type manner, with factual examples, the risk of something bad happening to you are low. And the potential good is high.

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