20 Things You Should Never Say to Your Boss

If you want to stay on the good side of your boss, there are plenty of things you should avoid saying or doing.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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Office culture has shifted a lot over the years. However, some workplace norms have remained unchanged throughout the decades — like the proper way to address your boss.

No matter what field you work in or how close you are to your superiors, there are certain topics and comments you should simply avoid when speaking to the boss.

Here are 20 things you should never say to your boss if you hope to advance your career and move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

I don’t get paid enough

Irene/Adobe woman wearing casual sweater over isolated yellow background doing money gesture

There is a time and a place to ask for a raise. You should always be prepared with reasons why you deserve more money before heading into your boss’ office and demanding it.

Many of us have had frustrating days at work where we want to tell our employers they don’t pay us enough. But it is best not to make demands during such tense moments.

Success in asking for a raise is more likely if you have done your homework and can build a solid case for your request. And if your boss turns you down, remember that there are plenty of great ways to make additional money while you search for a better-paid job elsewhere.

I need to leave early for an interview

Svitlana/Adobe man in casual wear holding box with personal things and saying good bye

It’s fine to be on the hunt for better opportunities. If you have heard about the Great Resignation, you know that much of the workforce is doing that right now.

But your boss doesn’t need to know you are looking for a new job, particularly if you are making these moves on company time.

It’s not my fault

Prostock-studio/Adobe coworkers arguing with each other at office

Even if it’s true, always dumping the blame for missteps onto other people can be a red flag for management.

Offering solutions or plans to avoid any issues in the future is a better option here and suggests you’re more of a team player. That is something managers across the board appreciate.

This is above my pay grade

Krakenimages.com/Adobe business workers arguing at office

Refusing to do a task because you don’t believe it’s part of your job description will not leave a good impression.

If you are really unsure about something you’ve been asked to complete, there are professional ways to resolve the uncertainty, such as requesting help from the appropriate department or asking your boss for some more clarification.

Who did you vote for?

tirachard/Adobe asian businessman talking to an intern

While it might seem like people are talking politics everywhere these days, these conversations can still cause rifts in the workplace.

In an effort to keep it professional with your boss and colleagues, it’s best to avoid outright asking who someone voted for or plans to vote for.

I’m not planning to stay here

luckybusiness/Adobe female boss talking to a colleague with attention

You might think of your current job as a stepping stone, but this is another thing to keep to yourself.

When bosses know you have one foot out the door, they may not invest in you or feel comfortable assigning you potentially career-advancing tasks.

I’m too smart to work here

Elnur/Adobe old king businessman employee at workplace

Keep in mind that your boss works at your job, too, albeit in a higher position.

If you’re bragging about how you’re too smart to be working for the company, how do you think your boss and colleagues feel about your attitude?

I don’t know how

JustLife/Adobe construction worker in factory made mistake

Plenty of employees feel at a loss when they begin a new job. When you don’t know the ins and outs of everyday tasks, it can feel overwhelming to learn all the little details.

However, telling your boss outright that you can’t do something will not look good. Instead, ask for some direction or consult a colleague who may be able to help.

I’m so bored

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe data analyst yawning in office

You don’t want your boss to think that you’re just sitting around on company time. Rather than expressing how bored you are, ask for another task.

Or, spend some time organizing your space or schedule until you’re given additional work.

I’m planning to call out sick

Pixel-Shot/Adobe woman talking by mobile phone at home

If you’re out of vacation time and really need another day off, the only PTO available may be a sick day. Telling your boss outright that you plan to use a sick day when you’re not ill may make them question whether you’re being dishonest every time you use a sick day.

I’m really hungover

New Africa/Adobe sleepy man with cup of drink at home in morning

On a related note, you don’t want to show up to work publicly complaining of a hangover either.

If you happen to indulge a bit too much during a weeknight out, make sure you come prepared with water, Advil, and whatever else you may need to get through a productive work day so management doesn’t begin to think of you as unreliable.

You’re wrong

Mariia/Adobe symbol with fingers on hand forefinger pointing forward

Your boss may very well be wrong. After all, bosses are human too.

However, there is a professional way to go about pointing this out. Pulling your boss aside and noting that you noticed something that may be an error or emailing them personally — and backing up why you think they may be mistaken — will likely yield a much better response.

Admitting to being inflexible with scheduling

ViDi Studio/Adobe white t-shirt hrugging shoulders looking puzzled

Flexibility is something managers appreciate. Saying you can never work past 5 p.m. or respond to an urgent email on a Saturday may come off as inflexible.

Of course, you should have boundaries when it comes to working, but both parties can (and should) be reasonable when it comes to scheduling.

Gossiping about a colleague

.shock/Adobe rumors

Gossiping in the workplace can lead to a hostile environment. It can result in issues that need to be handled by HR, and even job termination.

There are many aspects of your personal life that it’s best to not discuss on company time — and the same goes for aspects of your colleagues’ personal lives.

Can someone else handle this?

Andrey Popov/Adobe stressed accountant working late in office

If you try to push off tasks you don’t want, your boss may begin to think you aren’t a team player, especially if it becomes a habit.

If you’re confused about an assignment, or you have too much on your plate, try asking for some clarification from your boss. Check if deadlines are flexible, or ask if any of your colleagues can help work with you.

Admitting to lying on a resume

PaeGAG/Adobe job interview in office

Embellishing a bit on a resume is something many people do. But if you have claimed to possess skills or experience that you don’t actually have, don’t mention it to a boss.

Lying on a resume can be grounds for termination. And even if you just improved the truth a bit, it may make your employer think of you as untrustworthy.

Asking to leave early unnecessarily

insta_photos/Adobe  job interview

Life happens, and we all have to cut out early sometimes. But it’s generally a good rule of thumb to give your boss some advance notice if you know you have some other obligation.

By giving them some warning, they can plan ahead for your absence. Also, avoid making it a habit.

Spreading office rumors

luckybusiness/Adobe two male colleagues gossip at work in open space office

Maybe you heard through the grapevine that the company is speaking to buyers or that a colleague might be getting fired. No matter how juicy the gossip is, you don’t want to be caught spreading office rumors.

Doing so can lead to tension in the workplace, or give you a reputation for being untrustworthy.

I’ll get that done immediately

pikselstock/Adobe woman using laptop at warehouse

You may want to impress your boss by making it seem like you can complete tasks quickly and efficiently. However, it’s a safer bet to be realistic about how long projects may take.

If your boss is expecting to receive a report in an hour because you promised to deliver, but it takes you four hours, he or she may question your abilities in the future.

I heard so-and-so gets more money

peopleimages.com/Adobe young woman looking unhappy while working behind the counter of a cafe

As noted in the very first entry on this list, there is a right way to ask for more money.

If you know a colleague has the same job duties as you and makes more, that can be a part of your pitch for why you deserve a raise. However, these demands should still be thought through and executed at the right time.

Bottom line

BullRun/Adobe cheerful office workers talking behind glass door

While it’s great to feel comfortable and have open communication with your boss, there are still plenty of topics to keep off the table, no matter how close you are.

So, think before you speak. Doing so can help you avoid mistakes that can cost you money or derail your career.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.