The Office’s Michael Scott and the Word “Boss”

I was thinking the other day about the verbiage we use in the workplace. Now admittedly, I’m a bit of a nerd about this stuff, and I have a thing for studying the origins of words, phrases, and customs in the workplace. So bear with my nerdiness…

I don’t really have an issue with the word boss. It’s just not a big deal to me. But I know folks for whom it is a big deal. For some, it invokes mental allusions to an uber-hierarchal workplace environment. It conjures images of borderline tyrannical managers who rule with an iron fist and aren’t hesitant to wield their power when it suits them to do so. They picture bosses as people who are quick to remind people that they’re…well…bosses. And superior. And all-powerful. And all that jazz.

For me, that word doesn’t do that. I’ve got a boss at my primary job, but my CEO doesn’t act like a boss in the sense described above. We’ve all had a boss or two of the variety mentioned above, and it’s not a fun experience. It’s a story for a different post, but in some ways my interest in organizational culture and leadership sprung out of working under a boss that was pretty awful to humans. From the moment she hopped off her broom in the parking lot to the moment she hopped back on it to ride home, she made my life (and the lives of everyone else she interacted with) miserable.

And I guess in some ways the clients I consult or work with could be considered bosses in that they hire me to do work, but honestly those engagements are far more like partnerships than anything else. I’m my own boss with my consulting and speaking stuff, so rarely do the boss and I get into it. (I mean, if we did get into it–the boss and I–I suppose that would be a sign of a serious medical condition, right?) In regards to my consulting stuff, the closest thing I have to a boss is six years old, enjoys creating art, and is ridiculously beautiful.

But I can easily see why the word boss could negatively affect people. It’s just one word out of several that could potentially evoke certain thoughts and emotions in employees. I think we underestimate the impact of words, symbols, and workplace customs. I really do. That may seem odd, but then again if you’ve read many posts at all here, you know odd is just kind of in my blood.

So what are the words, phrases, or customs that rub you the wrong way? Or perhaps they don’t strike you in a negative way, but you’ve heard about them striking others negatively. What do you think? Is workplace verbiage a big deal? Are people just oversensitive? Are employers not sensitive enough to the imagery and impact of the words and phrases we use?

Shout out in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Office’s Michael Scott and the Word “Boss”

  • Enjoyed reading this, made me smile for reasons of past employment memories where making hierarchy known seemed to be a BIG deal. Thankfully this isn’t so in my current role at Bromford Group. We are colleagues not staff, teams and not departments – might sound minor to some but I do strongly believe it makes a big difference to morale and getting the best out of each other.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • My hackles raise when people are called “resources”…we only have people working in our company, don’t utilize natural or manufacturing resources, so it’s just a way of dehumanizing when discussing work.

  • Being called “boss” bothers me when it comes from someone on my team that treats me as a more important customer than the real customers we’re trying to serve together. They are focusing their attention in the wrong direction.

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