Sunday, April 07, 2024

Should you speak up when boss’ actions bug you?

Should you always say something when your boss does something that bugs you?

A reader we’re calling Clarence works as a teacher in a public school. He enjoys his work and likes his colleagues. He regularly receives work-related emails on his work email.

Lately, however, the chair of Clarence’s department has sent the occasional group text message to him and his colleagues, following up on a recent issue or preparing them for an issue that is soon to arise. The chair had access to each of the teachers’ cell phone numbers in case of emergency so they could be reached.

Even though the chair had not let the teachers know that they'd be receiving texts, Clarence didn’t really have an issue with receiving the occasional message as long as they arrived during the workday.

Increasingly, Clarence said, the texts have been arriving randomly and throughout the day and evening, often during dinner time or late at night. So far, he says, there’s been nothing urgent that couldn’t have waited until the work day or, even better, couldn’t have been sent through official work email since the texts were all work related.

Clarence checks his email regularly, but he can set it aside when the work day is done. His cell phone, however, remains on and texts come through on his personal cell phone whenever someone deems to send one.

If there were an emergency and his chair were to text or call him, Clarence says he’d have no problem. But receiving random, non-emergency texts on his personal phone after hours strikes him as inappropriate. He’d like to say something to his chair but he says he knows they would be “mortified” if the intrusion were brought to their intention, so he is reluctant to do so. He also doesn’t know if the practice is bothering his colleagues as much as it bothers him since they haven’t discussed it. He is concerned that raising the issue with colleagues might result in building the issue into more of a crisis than the nuisance it is.

Nevertheless, he would like the practice not to persist. What, if anything, should he do?

It was bad form not to let the teachers know that the chair planned to use their personal cell phone numbers to text them from time to time. It also seems perfectly appropriate for Clarence to say something if the practice of after-hours texting bothers him.

That Clarence is concerned about his chair being mortified shouldn’t stop him from saying something if he wants to change things. He might do well to decide how strongly he wants to register a complaint about the practice.

One thought is for Clarence to ask his chair if it’s possible to use the school email for communication so the teachers don’t have to try to remember if a message about a meeting or an issue is in a personal text or in school email. Approaching the issue this way lessens the possibility that the chair will be mortified in learning how they have been invading the teachers’ personal space.

But saying something is the right thing to do if Clarence would like the practice to stop.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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