Etiquette in the workplace: naming a boss as a mentor

               *Sometimes I write something I feel is enlightening, then read it through and almost do not publish it for fear that it is stating too much “obvious.” However that may be, a hallmark of a well bred woman is, I believe, to utilize common sense no matter how simple it may seem; from that place came the following article.

               We have all heard not to let our personal lives get too involved in the workplace. One practical way a well bred woman can apply this advice to her life is by not putting her boss on a pedestal of admiration. Recently a friend of mine quit her job due to her employers’ unethical practices; while I applaud her decision to stand up for what is right no matter the risk, I was saddened to hear how close my friend had grown to her bosses, particularly a woman whom she spoke of as her “mentor.” Having had such a strong emotional attachment to her boss and a preconceived, too optimistic idea of her character, my friend grieved the separation more acutely, feeling betrayed by her boss’s actions. After thinking it over, I concluded that naming a boss as a mentor is generally not a good idea for many reasons, not all of which will apply in every employment situation. However, for most people employed for pay, not in a non-profit, internship, or apprenticeship position, the following summarizes why keeping one’s emotional distance from one’s boss is the best decision for everyone.

               First of all, a woman and her boss have a vested interest in each other that ends in dollars and cents, or in performance and overhead. Basically she is there for the paycheck, no matter how much she loves her job, and her boss hired her for her working abilities and to further their own purpose as the head of, and probably top earner of, the company. In other words, the boss wants to set the course of direction for the company and she is interested in perpetuating her business, along with making the highest profit possible in line with her morals. As long as the relationship between two people depends on their ability to profit (or detract) from each other financially, the relationship is too awkward for any sort of emotional dependency to properly develop.

               As if that was not enough statement of the obvious, a person is at work to work, after all. Her boss is there to manage. Although she may spend eight hours straight shoulder to shoulder in a small office with a lot of “down time” between customers that includes chatting, it is still not like chatting with a friend or neighbor whom she met with for that purpose. The chatting is secondary to the job, not the main focus, so even though there may be a lot of it and the topics may go very deep, it is not “meant to be.” Usually older people have a word of advice in most situations, and younger people are eager to spread their affections to anyone they admire, as well as over share their personal life, but the hours spent in work are not for the purpose of bonding.

               A third and often overlooked reason why bonding and over sharing at work is inadvisable is that people often display a very narrow side of their character at work. Many people I have interacted with both inside and outside of the workplace have a “work face” and “work character” that they display only at work. Some people
1) Follow the rules at work because of the accountability; they fear getting caught. They are also more likely to appear to be a rule follower at first but end up being the type to fudge lines when they think no one knows or it does not matter.
2) Give lots of energy and attentiveness to their coworkers because they are trying to promote a happier, smoother work environment for themselves. In other words, many people think that they can either be the person who sits there and silently fumes while their employee talks on and on about her personal life, or they can be the person who puts in an opinion occasionally in an attempt to act interested, inadvertently appearing more interested than they really are. Of course, those are not the only two possible reactions but to people who view things in extremes, they may seem so.
3) Appear wise or professional simply because they have smoothly assimilated into their company’s image and role, such as a package deliverer, pizza baker, chiropractor, florist, or dental hygienist. In fact, in other areas of life they may be vastly lacking in knowledge, wisdom, or the experiences their employee has had.
When a woman bonds with her boss, therefore, the person she sees may only be a small slice of their total person and may not at all be the person she wishes to be foisting the status of mentor upon. And it does not really make sense to follow someone simply because they are there, while too often the person being admired and leaned upon will tacitly accept his or her role in a woman’s life without true thought to the responsibility it entails.

               To avoid naming a boss as her mentor, therefore, the well bred woman will pursue professional behavior by meeting her personal needs first in her life, although not in the workplace. She will remain a bit aloof or formal at work, knowing that if she wishes, she can still indulge a natural tendency to be warm, friendly, and caring without investing too much emotion. For those who wish a mentor, trusted confidant or advisors should be sought from their circle of acquaintances and friends beyond the workplace. While at work, a woman ought to temper her admiration for her boss who has not consciously committed to being the emotionally supportive, wise advisor that is expected in a mentor. To avoid giving too much of herself emotionally and becoming attached to someone who does not reciprocate, a dedicated employee will pay mindful attention to the way she spends her time at work. When faced with too much down time, she may find that there are other responsibilities to attend to that a more chatty employee would neglect; if there really is nothing to do for a few minutes’ stretches here and there, she could ask the boss for more responsibilities or pursue some small, quiet hobby instead of filling each empty minute with conversation.

               P.S. Here in the South, people talk a lot: to their friends, to strangers, to everyone all the time. I think that is why Southerners are often portrayed as being friendly, although at some point it usually crosses the line of behaving too familiarly. I wonder how different things are up North or on the Coasts or out West; do any of my readers have experience with the workplace, particularly offices, being constant chat parties? I have often had to wait at a business to be assisted while the employee on duty finishes up her conversation with a co-worker. It is a bit bewildering!


2 thoughts on “Etiquette in the workplace: naming a boss as a mentor

  1. Your post could not be more timely. I am in the north and am being driven mad by the constant chatter in my workplace. To make matters worse, it’s often personal and more than occasionally gossip. We work in a large open space and there is nowhere for me to retreat and focus! I sincerely wish that people would be more private and reserved at work. I have friends who I share my life with on my own time and don’t feel the need to do so at work. Agh!


    • I sympathize with you and wish I had some advice, or a magic device to make you invisible. 🙂 Honestly the best path to take for yourself may involve a bit of hurt feelings on your co-workers’ part; when I used to work outside the home, I found that tuning out the conversations and gossip made others think that I was acting “better than” them or just not caring as much as I should. But each woman has to do what is best for her. And the less said, the better; you don’t have to take back what you didn’t say. Thanks for the comment, Sarah.


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