I started as a solo operation almost ten years ago and now have several employees. I reached the point (finally!) where I do not have to work long hours. When the opportunity arises to leave early, I take it. My office manager (who generally does a really good job) has developed a habit of saying, “Must be nice” whenever I leave early. I actually find myself sneaking out of my own business so she will not catch me and say that. I worked hard to get where I am and I deserve the perks that I have now. The first time the office manager said this, I laughed and took it for the joke that I thought it was. Now I think that she really is criticizing me in a sarcastic way. It is driving me insane. I have given her the cold stare, but she just doesn’t get it. Other than slapping her (I read your advice daily and know that slapping is often your suggestion) – what on earth can I do to make her stop saying that?
— About to Scream
Dear About to Scream:
Try actually screaming since staring was too subtle. It will be cathartic for you and probably scare the sarcasm out of your office manager. If screaming is too much drama for your tastes, tell her that leaving early really is nice — about as nice as having a good job which she won’t have if she ever makes that comment again. When she asks if you are serious (and she probably will), just smile and nod as you drive off into your lazy afternoon.
— Evil Skippy
Your experience provides a great pair of lessons about performance management:
1. Intense staring does not work as a communications tool.
2. Immediate and specific feedback can achieve great results.
Lesson No. 1 is obvious. Staring does not communicate much of anything and is prone to gross misinterpretation if a message is somehow conveyed. I seriously doubt that your office manager has ever thought, “Gosh! The boss is staring. I must have engaged in an annoying round of sarcasm when I made that little joke. I better not do that again. I owe her more respect because she worked so hard to get where she is. Shame on me! Oh shame on me!” More likely, she is thinking , “Should I have Thai food for dinner tonight, or Indian?”
The second lesson is one that every supervisor needs to embrace. If you are not familiar with my favorite feedback tool, read Daily Performance Management – I.T.S. Fundamental. Providing immediate and specific feedback can stop tiny problems from becoming huge ones. Think about it. If you had told your office manager that the comment bugs you the first time that it annoyed you, she probably would have stopped. She might have questioned your sense of humor, but so what?
Since you did not speak up early on in this tale, you will have to take a more deliberate approach. Don’t wait for your office manager to make the comment again. Instead, during a talk about work matters when it is just the two of you and as your conversation is about to end, say something like this:
Oh – one more thing. I should have said something early on, but I felt like I was being a grouch. It really bugs me when you say “must be nice” when I have a chance to leave early, so I’d like you to stop.
Do it today. Your office manager’s only option is to stop. Problem solved.