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Advice to new managers: don't joke about firing people (staysaasy.com)
666 points by svmanager 26 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 442 comments



This is sound advice. You have a significant amount of control over people's lives as a manager, and that should be treated with a level of respect. You have no idea how people feel, and it is quite possible that someone you manage doesn't know where they stand with you. At times that is more than enough to cause them stress and even convince them to look elsewhere. Work is stressful enough, and you don't need to add to it.

I should also note. If you're a manager, your job is to do things that make you uncomfortable. If you can't handle sitting there and telling them you're letting them go in person, it's probably not the path for you. Have the decency to look someone in the eye. Don't pass it off to HR, because that's more convenient.


I've discovered when there's a power dynamic going on between two people, it's usually not a very good idea to pretend like that doesn't exist -- despite the fact that it is my natural inclination to joke about it and downplay it.

Instead, I find it's better to be kind, take things seriously and treat people with respect.

Yes, the power dynamic exists. Yes, I believe it's somewhat unfair and I wish society wasn't structured that way. But make up for it by being kind, being direct and treating people fairly.

Otherwise, it just comes across as an inability to accept responsibility, and if someone with power over you doesn't seem predictable it just feels scary and unstable. Or worse, you'll give people the impression that you're actively taking pleasure in toying with them.


I agree with this. I recently had an honestly disastrous experience at a job because we tried to pretend that power dynamic doesn't exist. My boss (the CTO) considered me a friend and vice versa, but that made every work interaction so awkward (for me at least) because I could never tell whether we were talking as friends, teammates or employer-employee. I attribute this as both of us being incredibly young (lower 20s) and naive, but we still hold a lot of respect for each other now that I'm not working there anymore.


I could never tell whether we were talking as friends, teammates or employer-employee

There’s an old saying, if your boss if your friend, he’s either a bad boss or a bad friend.


I recently got promoted to be the manager of a guy who has literally been my best friend since we were 10. Anyone got advice about how to not be doomed to be a bad boss or bad friend?


Relax and don't take all advice and catch sayings a gospel. I have risen thru the ranks to the CTO position several times in my career and I brought my friends along with me. If he is a good worker, he will remain a good worker most likely. In my career I have only had to fire one of my friends and it was literally because he developed a drug problem so bad he was showing up to work totally out of it. I counseled him, tried to get him into rehab and did what any friend would do but the drugs had taken hold. I was friends with him for years before that and did not know he had a drug problem before we met. He relapsed and just could not shake it this time.

That being said, there is no doubt the dynamic changes but that does not mean you have to give up your friends. It means you have to be more transparent with them, it means an absolute commitment to honesty so that you remove the feeling that you may be "managing" behind their back.

Jumping back to my friend, I was candid with him that he would leave me no choice, that it was completely unacceptable and that most of all I was concerned about him as a friend. He understood and understood my actions and that it was he who left me no choice.

I had another friend who battled depression, she was a rock star for years and then just hit a wall, due to a life event. I took off my CTO hat, put on my friend hat and worked with her thru it. Helped her build a path to put her life together and helped her get her career back on track. She had some extremely self destructive behavior in the throws of depression and I resisted outside pressure to fire her, due to knowing the sensitive nature of her medical condition, that knowledge came from being her friend not her manager. In the end what I gained was a loyal employee and a rockstar again. What I also gained is a group of people that any time I have an endeavor, I can pick up the phone, make a call and they will quit their job on the spot to join me. Have an unwavering commitment to your people and they will have an unwavering commitment to you, when they know that you are honest to them.

Point being take conventional wisdom with a grain of salt. Don't be jerk and don't manage behind peoples back and you will be fine. But the original point of the article is spot on, never, ever, even jokingly, joke about someones employment if you have a position of power or a decision in that continued employment. It's off limits, but if they are not meeting a standard be honest with them and be honest with them in the short run. Be a friend and put a plan together to get them back on track. Help them be successful, part of being a good manager is being a people builder.


Thanks. the fact that you took the time to share all this means a lot to me


I recently got promoted to be the manager of a guy who has literally been my best friend since we were 10.

There will come a time when you will know something he can't know, such as layoffs are coming. Or maybe he deserves that promotion/raise but you can't give it to him because everyone knows you're friends and you open yourself to accusations of favoritism (or worse). If you really want to square this circle the only way to to get yourself moved to a different reporting line.


This is important context to keep in mind. But, I work for a 20 person company, so only two reporting lines to choose from :\


A couple of weeks ago my family binge-watched "The Office". That show demonstrates the truth of that saying very well.


The original - or the US adaptation?


The US version is what I saw. I'm not sure how it differs from the original.


This is one show where I believe most agree the US remake is superior. Character development gives the US edition far more depth at the expense of trading off a little subtlety. Gervais masters cringe to the point of extreme viewer discomfort. Opinions vary, of course.


The UK version was fairly short but hit all the high points pretty well. The US version had several more seasons and had more opportunities to build characters and explore ideas, which worked until around Season 5-6. The later seasons of the US edition had their moments, but were clearly running out of steam.

Cue the inevitable Ribbonfarm link in 3... 2... 1...


Give the original ago. No need to watch it if it doesn't float your boat, but give it a try.


It might work the other way too? Either a bad employee or a bad friend? Or maybe it would be both?


> is quite possible that someone you manage doesn't know where they stand with you

Higher level performers tend to disproportionately believe then need to improve so they tend to take group jokes or threats of termination much more seriously than underperformers.

Be very very careful making groups statements and jokes about performance and firings. It’s a fast track to losing high performers who leave because they start to believe they are not wanted and not doing a good job.


Do you have a citation for this phenomenon you claim wrt higher level performers?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

"... five subgroups this syndrome often falls into.

- The perfectionist

- The superwoman/man

- The natural genius

- The soloist

- The expert"


"While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally."

"The researchers concluded that the women who participated in this study experienced impostor phenomenon more so than the men who participated."

am I misparsing this sentence? how can both be true?


I may be wrong because it is worded unclearly, but I think the first is referring to the magnitude by which men and women are affected, i.e. those that are affected, be they men or women, experience the same impact to their self esteem/worth. The second is referring to the fact that women are more frequently affected by it.


That makes sense, thanks. I was misled by the use of "prevalence" in the first part of the sentence.


In this context, prevalence means something like "the proportion of affected people in some group."

Men and women could be equally likely to develop some form of imposter syndrome (thus, equal prevalence), but the women could be more severely affected (scores of, say, 5 vs. 3 on some kind of test or questionnaire).


yeah, the definition of prevalence is clear to me.

but it's the other way around. Men and women are affected with the same severity but women are more likely to develop it. ( or at least that's what I understood from bradjohnson's comment).


No, I don't think that's a correct interpretation: if women are more likely to develop it, then the prevalence isn't equal. Affect and prevalence just focus on rates, not severity.

I can only see two ways to make both statements consistent:

- Men and women are both likely to have an general 'diagnosis' of imposter syndrome, but women experience more 'acute attacks' of it per unit time. Half of of men and women feel like imposters during a year, but the affected women feel that way twice a week, while the affected men feel it once/week.

- Women experience it more severely than men: a male colonel feels like a lt. colonel, but a female colonel feels like a major)

Could be some combination of the two...or the writing is just a mess!


I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around:

Severity is the same for both genders (those that have it, feel it with similar enough degree and frequency), but in equal sized groups of men and women, there are more women who exhibit it.


It occurred to me that the original sources might be a lot clearer:

From Wikipedia's ref #1 (Langford and Clance, 1993)

"Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Langford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors."

And Ref #9 (Kumar and Jagacinski, 2006)

"Women expressed greater imposter fears than men and were also higher on ability-avoid goals."

The writing in the Wikipedia article is not great though, so it could have gone either way...


The first is characterizing a broad collection of research findings since the early identification of the phenomenon, the other the particular survey.


so which one is wrong?


Neither is necessarily wrong, as they have a different universe of analysis.


the way I parsed the question made it seem that they are incompatible. hence why I asked. it's my bad because I didn't explain myself.

I understood the first sentence to be saying that the proportion of men experiencing "imposter's syndrome" is the equal to the proportion of woman experiencing it.

I understood The second sentence to say that a higher proportion of women experience it.

To my understanding, it's not possible for these two statements to be true at the same time. So one must be wrong.


"Not all foo are bar."

"This foo is bar."

Both statements can be true simultaneously.


Of course, that's true but I can't map that to the statements at hand.

I understood it to be:

P(W) == P(M)

and P(W) > P(M)


"In one study" means "In a particular sample." A sample does not always share the same characteristics as the population.


if a study can't be replicated then the study is wrong isn't it?

either the sample was too small, they got unlucky or the result is stated too generally.


> if a study can't be replicated then the study is wrong isn't it?

Not necessarily. Maybe the replications were flawed. Characteristics of a population can change over time. Blah, blah, blah. It's incredibly hard to say something is flat wrong or absolutely correct. A good scientist uses what others might call "weasel" words (I hate that term), like, "The data is (in)consistent with the hypothesis."

The more evidence that mounts for or against a hypothesis, well, it's up to you to decide how to act.


"P(W) == P(M)" is not supported by the statement. More like "P(W), but also P(M)"



This discussion revolves around advice, which set my expectations that these are claims based on experience instead of something that can be cited. If you don’t agree because you’ve had a contradicting experience, that could be a valuable addition to the discussion. It’s also fair to not adopt the advice if you want a study and one cannot be provided.

I’ve experienced the feeling the grandparent post shared.


One qualifying segment is the rarer over performing subset of Dunning-Kruger personalities. That is people who accurately measure their own performance but do not accurately measure their peers and thus improperly devalue themselves in comparison. To compensate for that improper devaluation these people will attempt to over perform in an effort to feel comparable.

Under that condition it is anticipated these people will take criticism and risks with a greater degree of personal sensitivity.


i think you have the causality reversed

people who take the risks seriously will try harder, thus become higher performers


If you're a manager, your job is to do things that make you uncomfortable.

Yep, one thing I noticed when I moved into a management role, was that the things that would make you move along as an employee, are the things it's now your job to fix or deal with. Maybe this is obvious, but there's kind of a visceral shift in perception that goes along with it.


Jup, I'm not empowered to do anything myself, so I have to rely on you.

If you as my manager are not able to do anything either, we're part of a sick organization, and the only thing to do is leave.


As your circle expand, it is impossible not to notice the walls and blockers that are endemic. If one doesn't see this, it's often because that person is in their own little bubble, and not doing much to improve the organization either.

Often, it takes both employees and managers to really make the shifts, over many many years. By the time it happens, the individual contributions are mostly forgotten or employee left long ago.


I had a manager do this to me once. In a situation where I knew for sure he was joking. I was top of the department, and it wasn't even in the context of having done anything wrong. He had just been given some new responsibilities, and I asked him what he was planning to change, and he said, totally jokingly, 'well, today is your last day.' And I knew 100% it was a joke, and I still felt a horrible sinking feeling for a fraction of a second that was enough for me to promise myself that, should I ever be a manager, I would never ever do that to anyone.

Fast forward a couple of years, I'm a manager in a different company, the company wants to move everyone over to a different legal entity by firing and then rehiring them. Totally innocuous. Remembering the above conversation and self-promise, I planned very carefully how to tell my team and in which order to say the words, and... someone interrupted with a question and I managed to cause exactly that moment of panic I'd been trying to avoid. You win some, you lose some...but at least I wasn't doing it as a joke.


It’s a strange feeling “being fired” even if it doesn’t affect your income.

The company I worked for in 2011 was acquired for its customers. We all knew that we were going to be let go as soon as the acquisition happened. Most of us had other jobs lined up and we were sticking around for the severance.

In my case, not only did I have a contract lined up with one of our customers, I knew I was going to start working the following Monday and getting paid more, and my termination letter had a special provision that gave me access to all of my former company’s intellectual property and software that I needed to work with the customer. I still felt bad for getting let go.

After we all “got fired” we ate lunch, had a few drinks, and came back to the office and just hung out.


I understand that sometimes the topic of a conversation can't be revealed beforehand. However, I wish more managers would give some kind of indication beforehand about how anxious one should be about it because for many people the worst-case scenario is the default presumption.


Totally agree, and I actually did do that! I started by saying, 'There is absolutely nothing to worry about, everything is totally fine' - but of course nothing worries people like being told there is nothing to worry about :)

I had a great relationship with my team and no-one held it against me, it's just that moment of emotional response that gives a shock until the rational mind kicks in.


I think it's best to keep the notice for that kind of meeting as short as possible.

My work cut our hours by 20%, and we were given notice about the meeting only a couple of hours beforehand. It would be cruel to schedule that kind of meeting for several days in time, leaving your staff in purgatory, wondering if they should get a head start on looking for a new job.


I had the same thing happen recently, being rehired under subsidiary company, and they were great at explaining why (at least in a general sense) and reassuring us it had no effect on our job security.

We had to lay off a new hire and reduce hours across the board due to Covid-19, and once again they did a great job at reassuring us they had every intention of keeping (the rest of) us employed as much as possible.


I think it's good advice because the prediction of the social situation around becoming a manager is accurate (and often not discussed at all).

It is awkward for people to go from not being a manager to being a manager among their peers. In new social situations I think that 'awkwardness' is actually uncertainty about how to behave because you haven't been in that position before. A lot of social skills seem to be based on accurate models/predictions of what to do in certain situations in order to bond with people.

When you're suddenly a manager the old tools don't work as well and people try to generate that camaraderie with humor, but for the reasons listed in the article this can be particularly bad if done poorly.

Other jokes I've noticed in addition to the firing thing, are annoying humble brag comments like, "Can you believe X important person wanted to talk to me about this thing?". I think they're trying to signal that they don't think they're important, but the obvious context just comes across as bragging. I think people get more respect when they just recognize the role they're in and are more confident about it (but that probably comes with experience of navigating that social situation).

A good lead will explain these things directly to a new manager because the social bits are not obvious and are uncomfortable. This is even more important in fields where the baseline social skills may be not quite at par anyway.

One advantage is that if you have knowledge of this, and you can model the way others think about it - you can actually be a force to make people more comfortable than they'd otherwise be. Encouraging them to ask questions by asking yourself in front of them when you don't know something. Suggesting they go home early if something is bothering them and that you do it too. Reassuring them if they're doing a good job or if something they're working on is particularly tricky etc.

A good manager can do a lot to make someone feel safe/secure and make them happy, which is often a prerequisite for them to be a strong member of the team and stay for a long time.


Have the decency to look someone in the eye.

This is true even if you're not firing somebody. In my first "real" job, I didn't report directly to the guy who negotiated pay. Maybe that was a little weird, but it could have worked. Except, the way he would discuss raises was to wait until some afternoon I was really busy with actual work, and then sneak into my office and blurt "your-raise-this-year-is-$10-congratulations-it-was-good-to-talk-with-you-I'll-be-pretty-busy-for-the-next-few-weeks-ok-bye!" He was literally gone before I had the presence of mind to greet him. This is the same guy who would insist on all sorts of procedures if anyone (e.g. my manager's manager) wanted to meet with him. Geoff, wow, what a tool.


> If you can't handle sitting there and telling them you're letting them go in person, it's probably not the path for you

I do think this is something you can learn. Having a good mentor/coach helps. I had a hard time with this personally, but after all these years I've seen almost every seat be replaced (more than once, too) and I've gotten used to it. You have to become more consciously aware that a business relationship is a separate thing from a friendly/family relationship.


Minor fix for clarity:

> If you're a manager, part of your job is to do things that make you uncomfortable


I have definitely started a job search after a superior joked about us being "replaceable". It wasn't even directed at me particularly, but there was a chance it was in reference to either the departments performance in general or possibly financial constraints of the department. The risk analysis on that from an employee perspective is a no-brainer: start making contingency plans.


Agreed. Long time ago I had a manager, who was using his firing history as a motivational tool. He would walk somewhere behind you and tell someone else a story that was supposed to partially mirror a story about you. Very subtle.

He also loved bad jokes, but he was smart enough not to joke about firing people.


There's nothing subtle about that kind of behavior. Contemptible, yes, but not subtle.


You could call it transparency. It's vastly better to have someone make you aware of what's up than blindside you or gaslight you by giving contradictory information/demands.


Or you know, have a meeting where your manager directly discusses the issue with you like an adult.


Yeah, exactly. It's pretty wild to see "transparency" invoked in the context of literally talking behind someone's back.


Yeah I did a double take there. I personally believe that someone with that management methodology is entirely unfit for their position.


"Literally" talking behind someone's back, as you put it, is not talking behind someone's back, in the normal sense. So what's wild about calling it transparent?


The wild part is the part where somebody plays high-school head games, instead of acting like a competent adult does and being forthright about whatever issue there is at hand.

I mean, I don't know what your interpersonal relationships in life have given you to consider a normal and healthy way for people to interact for one another. But I can absolutely tell you that what we're talking about here is neither of those.


I haven't experienced the OP's described behavior that I recall.

I was trying to make a clear contrast with behavior that is much worse, which I have experienced a lot.

If you're having such a hostile reaction, should I suspect you think the "much worse" behavior is normal and healthy?


Not at all. You're right that there are much worse behaviors than the one under discussion, but there's still a vast qualitative difference between "not as bad as it might be" and good.


> You could call it transparency

Nope. 100% passive aggressive, toxic behavior.


It matters a great deal whether someone is doing something to deceive or confuse. So whether it's toxic behavior depends on context.

If someone is reliable and trustworthy in their communication, then calling them "toxic" because you don't like the style is just wrong.

Conversely, someone can tell you all day every day how honest and straightforward they are, but if they aren't consistent or trustworthy, then their communication style is irrelevant.


The point is that there's nothing reliable or trustworthy about passing veiled, pointed comments behind someone's back and expecting them to read your meaning out of context and circumstance, rather than just stating your concerns directly.

Such behavior fails to offer the report a fair chance to know what's expected of them and, presumably, how they're not meeting those expectations. It has much more in common with the kind of dysfunctional communication you see in unhappy marriages, than with anything I require of a manager - or, should I eventually join management myself, with anything I'll provide my own reports.

That's what "toxic" is a shorthand for. Yeah, I'll grant it might be consistent. But to be consistently bad isn't, you know, not bad. Being able to predict the bullshit that is going to happen doesn't make the bullshit not happen. It just means you can see it coming. I'll concede there may be reasons to tolerate it, if the benefits of the job outweigh the bullshit. But that doesn't make it not bullshit.

(And, as a side note, anyone who talks about how honest or straightforward they are - that's a big yikes from me, chief. People who are legitimately honest and straightforward don't need to talk about having those traits, because their behavior reflects them. People who do need to talk about having those traits are, in my experience, very likely to be trying to cover their lack.)


The behavior is toxic. It doesn't matter the intent or context. It is passive aggressive, period.

At best, it is someone who is scared to have difficult conversations. At worst, who knows.. I've slowly learned not to try and rationalize what makes people like that tick. It's their issue, not mine.


As someone who has done hiring and firing, there are absolutely times when I cannot be upfront with people. Like, explicitly, "word from the top is don't talk about how we're hiring X and firing Y."

Doing things like that is kind of shady, but there are often times when you cannot straight up tell people things but still need or want to send signals.


It's still gaslighting if you are threatening to fire people but not actually firing anyone.


My point was that the form of communication doesn't matter so much as the context. I agree that you can assume a context that implies it was bad.


Do you have significant amount of control? Maybe I've been lucky to be part of mostly healthy organizations, but even managers have to justify/explain decisions. Either be for termination, compensation adjustment, reassigning to a different team, etc.

I always had to document and explain why I thought an employee deserved a raise, or should not get a bonus, etc. Even as a director with ~20 reports I don't have unlimited firing power and I still need to regroup with HR when it comes to that.

Yes, of course you have some control, but it's not unchecked.


I always had to document and explain why I thought an employee deserved a raise, or should not get a bonus, etc. Even as a director with ~20 reports I don't have unlimited firing power and I still need to regroup with HR when it comes to that.

Having that system in place isn't enough. You need that system to have teeth, and you need to have someone with as much power as you who will review your decisions and play devil's advocate.

In many teams I've seen with documentation and HR hurdles, they're not real hurdles, they're just there so that there's a paper trail at all. That's because:

1. Most people in the company including the manager's boss and possibly even most teammates of the employee don't see enough of the employee's work, so it's often the manager's word vs. employee's. A bad manager will exploit that, intentionally or unintentionally.

2. When in doubt, the management hierarchy tends to side with the manager on things, because they by default trust the manager more than the employee and their view of the facts of the situation usually comes from the manager. A bad manager will intentionally or unintentionally editorialize the facts on their way up the hierarchy.

3. HR tends to avoid making waves. The only time I've seen HR (excuse the metaphor) plant the flag on the hill they intend to die on, it's because the person being fired or managed out was a protected class of worker. I have never seen HR push back just because the manager had insufficient reasons or suspect reasoning. A bad manager will just shove decisions through HR, intentionally or unintentionally.

In all of those places, there were systems in place where managers had to document those decisions, but there wasn't real accountability, so the systems were nominal at best.


> HR tends to avoid making waves. The only time I've seen HR (excuse the metaphor) plant the flag on the hill they intend to die on, it's because the person being fired or managed out was a protected class of worker. I have never seen HR push back just because the manager had insufficient reasons or suspect reasoning.

Second guessing management hiring/firing decisions that don't expose the company to unacceptable risk of liability for labor law violations generally isn't HR’s function.


Sure, it may not be HR's function. That's my point. Even with the paperwork, HR effectively never acts as a counterbalance to a bad manager. That's why I list it as one of the reasons why the paperwork that the grandparent poster has to do is often part of a system that only keeps honest people honest.

When I think back to some of the most egregious workplace culture issues in recent memory, such as Uber (Susan Fowler) or Riot Games, HR was, by the most charitable interpretation, unable to stop obviously bad things from happening. By a more literal read of the news at the time, HR was complicit.


Does that mean you disagree with "the systems were nominal at best"?

And sometimes / often there are real and accurate reviews of termination reasons (From your perspective)?


What's a 'protected class of worker'?

I'm aware of 'protected characteristics', but they cut both ways, not something you can be or not be.


> What's a 'protected class of worker'?

> I'm aware of 'protected characteristics', but they cut both ways, not something you can be or not be.

The legal term of art is “protected class” and not all of them cut both ways (age over 40, disability, and veteran status are all one-sided protected classes.)


Ok, well I suppose it should have been obvious this varies with jurisdiction.

In mine, it is indeed 'characteristics', and it is 'age', not 'over 40'.


"Characteristics" works too. I meant the categories that fall under employment description in general:

https://www.eeoc.gov/youth/what-employment-discrimination

Specifically, I meant that when you're firing someone who falls into those categories, HR will often require you to document extra well why it's not employment discrimination, in case there's a lawsuit.


You must work at a pretty healthy company. Because those checks also exist at unhealthy companies, but there managers just know how to work the system.

E.g., I know somebody whose manager was pushed out for political reasons. Their first meeting with their new boss, the one who did the pushing, was a 90-minute series of accusations and critiques. In the second meeting, they were presented with a letter documenting the critiques and their poor response. Their third meeting was a no-notice, no-severance layoff and a security escort to the door. It turned out the people "laid off" were all the ones hired by the old boss, even though the company was hiring for the same roles at the same time. So the new boss was just cleaning house, making sure the people in key positions were loyal to him.

But it was all documented and justified.


This is also the experience I've had with PIPs, "performance" reviews and promotions at large companies. Also incompetent but well connected people are some of the most likely to be promoted into management.


"I've seen dookie roll up hills" referring to both incidents/misery, but also shitbirds getting promoted.


And that is why I want a union or professional organization. That level of nonsense needs a mechanism to resist with. How many lives and marriages, families suffered for political moves mostly for nothing by some lunatic.


I would rather live with the risk of a political firing than make it unnecessarily difficult to fire poor performers.


Then maybe help unionize your workplace and advocate for that. Unions don't have to protect poor performers. They could just as well be stringent about them.

I think a lot of the impression people have of unions is from places with really hostile labor/manager relationships. Under those conditions, it's easy to treat the workplace as a zero-sum battleground. But especially in tech, where we have a culture of shared gain and literal shared ownership, it's possible for workers to advocate for things like improved efficiency.


Is it possible you've been brainwashed? I've never worked at a job that was so important as to make firing so vital. Most corporations are littered with deadwood. If firing "poor performers" is of no importance, how could it be more important than my comfort at my job? In fact, pretty much the only jobs that remain unionized are the ones we all pretend are really extra super important, like police and teachers.


You know that, but your underlings really don't. Yeah you can try telling them you're very constrained, but they'll think you're just passing the buck (which a lot of managers do, "it's out of my hands" etc etc). And I'm sure you can still influence things like who goes on holiday when, and stuff like that.


But your people don't see the checks in action. For all they know, you've passed those already.

The main thing is, there is a power differential, and "firing" jokes are, at their core, saying "I have power over you". It's just not that funny. And for new managers who feel compelled to make them, "why does my power make me giddy" is a good introspective question to ask.

No, that doesn't imply they are bad people. New power does things to everybody's mood. But asking the question helps remind yourself. (For an entire framework to keep that impulse in check, servant leadership works pretty well, IME)


Yea of course but the employee generally has no visibility into those processes, especially when it comes to job termination.


It is sound advice and it is difficult if you're friends with people where you had an easy camaraderie before the promotion.

I have had this bite me a couple of times with people for whom I felt I knew really well and was really comfortable with joking about pretty much anything. Only to find out later that the joke was anything but.

The hard and fast rule has to be both don't joke about firing and don't talk to someone else's direct reports about the performance of their manager.


Early in my career, a manager once had me repeat to him that I would be terminated if I failed to do X, like I was a 5-year-old.

X was referring to a technical implementation detail that he had zero understanding of. He read something in a blog post I guess.

My reaction was to act like it was a fun joke or something. But inside, I absolutely loathed him every second of every day until I quit, and now I take great satisfaction knowing that I’ve surpassed him and would never do a thing to help his stagnating career. (In other words, I’m holding an extremely petty and lasting grudge.)

But my point is, he probably thought I was fine with all his joking. I always laughed.

To expand on the article’s point, I think the biggest thing young managers don’t understand is that people are going to be insincere to you as a basic showing of respect and a basic desire for career preservation. They’re going to smile and appear to enjoy you and laugh at your jokes and seem ok with everything, much moreso than they otherwise would. So don’t make the mistake of using their reactions to define your boundaries of what’s acceptable or what’s funny, because it’s not a typical relationship, and you will invariably believe that you are funnier than you are and that a wider range of unacceptable behaviors are acceptable.


> To expand on the article’s point, I think the biggest thing young managers don’t understand is that people are going to be insincere to you as a basic showing of respect and a basic desire for career preservation. They’re going to smile and appear to enjoy you and laugh at your jokes and seem ok with everything, much moreso than they otherwise would.

I know it's hard and it took me until my 30s with a long career behind me but I really wish people would be more vocal about their issues to their managers, even if it's about their management style or them burning people out, etc. There is a huge chance that you're not the only one with those feelings and there might be people newer to the team or career that are afraid of speaking up for things that they really truly disagree with, or just the people who get anxious with confrontation.


Your perception of the risks associated with providing that feedback isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

When you’re young, and especially if you come from a lower income background (where authority is treated as an absolute, and abuse of authority is generally more common and accepted), it can seem very risky and feel very unacceptable to give this kind of feedback to your manager.

It’s easy for me to agree with you now, but there are very different feelings about this across different backgrounds and cultures, and there are plenty of managers who would react harshly to this.


There is also tremendous internal pressure not to rock the boat, if you are in a place with not much job mobility.


That is a good feeling but it is career suicide. Adulation and compliance is a sweet currency and if you dont use it (it is OK) other people will and they will be moved ahead of you time and time again.


There's just no upside in this approach. Educate your manager? It wasn't asked for, won't work and is not appreciated. Make the world a better place? You're better off making your world a better place by leaving or changing positions.


> There is a huge chance that you're not the only one with those feelings and there might be people newer to the team or career that are afraid of speaking up for things that they really truly disagree with, or just the people who get anxious with confrontation.

There's a huge chance that, if you are actually working in a toxic environment, complaining about it will result in blowback directly targeted at you.


All the other comments note how risky the approach of giving feedback to your boss is, and they're right.

As a manager, it's on ME to setup the environment for candid feedback. It's something I have to emphasize over and over again and demonstrate very clearly and publicly to everyone that it's ok and it's what I expect.

If the boss isn't creating that environment, then it's a risky, uphill battle for any subordinate to create change. Not impossible, but it's difficult to recommend it.


Sometimes you have responsibilities and you can't risk the job on the off chance that your feedback hits the wrong buttons.


I could think of no context where this would sound like a joke, him having you repeat that like a child just sounds emasculating.


How about saying, “please don’t joke about firing me?” Feedback is a 2-way street and people aren’t mind readers.


One approach to react to ridiculous behavior is to simply ask the other person something like "so you're telling me to repeat that I'll be fired if I don't do X".

This technique is called mirroring.

It's a tacit reminder to the other person that what they're saying is outside the boundary of your immediate comprehension - forcing them to be more conscious of their behavior.


This disregards the power imbalance -- lots of employees (especially junior ones) are not comfortable being so firm with their managers.


Part of life is tactfully dealing with people who have power over you. It’s not very comfortable for anyone.


Turning this into an issue of mere comfort betrays a great deal of privilege. Many, arguably most, people are a firing or two away from poverty and misery. In tech, this can be especially true of people early in their careers, and especially those from less-advantaged backgrounds. If you get fired from your first tech job, and your manager talks a bunch of shit about you, that may be your last tech job.


Even in the current climate employers are desperate for (good) developers, at all points on the experience spectrum.

If you live in a city you can probably get an interview the day after you get fired. Sooner if you're willing to use a recruiter.


While this is true, saying "I got fired from my first and only job in tech. Also I can't provide any professional references because my manager has a grudge against me" can be a red flag for your next employer, or even next few employers (whether justified or not).


Is this still true during Coronavirus? I know my company at least has raised our interview standard


A lot of life is determined by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have, one way or the other.


I'd never really thought about this idea explicitly but it really does apply to an awful lot of situations. I can think of countless experiences that would have turned out very differently if I had or had not brought up a tough conversation. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.


This is such an accurate and profound statement.

And now that I think about it, one trait that I’ve witnessed in CEOs and successful entrepreneurs again and again is an almost inhuman ease with initiating and engaging in uncomfortable conversations. They don’t hesitate with them either.

I always assumed it was just something they all naturally develop as a consequence of being bombarded and put upon constantly, but maybe there’s more to it than that.


this a thousand times


Wisdom is realizing no one really has power over you.

You are voluntarily & temporarily handing over that power to someone else in exchange for money.

The moment you renounce your desire for money from that company, you get back that power you handed over.

And that was, is, and will, always be your decision. Thus, the power never left your hands.


> You are voluntarily & temporarily handing over that power to someone else in exchange for money.

The thing you're missing is that money is required to live. If I "voluntarily" decide to stop earning it, or if I end up in a job where I earn substantially less, a state employee with a gun will eventually show up to my house and evict me from it. If I am hungry and take some food from a store, a state employee with a gun will put me in a cage. The idea that there's no power dynamic at play here is absurd.


You're missing the point.

There is always a power dynamic as long as you have desires.

Even the state employee with a gun has someone else he needs to answer to, or that someone else with a bigger gun will show up at his house.

To the saint/monk/yogi who needs nothing but a fruit a day from a nearby tree, no power on earth has a "power-dynamic" over him.


> you renounce your desire for money from that company

All well and good if you can afford it. If you can not, then the existential wisdom is a lot less useful than, say, worker's rights.


I've always found the power dynamic issue troublesome. So often it can be turned into "Well they might have consented, but they really didn't truly have the power to because of the power imbalance."

There might be some truth in that in a purely psychological sense, but it also is a massive legal issue. Do you really have agency as an employee, and what are those limits?

Say a manager gets into a relationship with a subordinate. Yes, it's a bad idea, of course, but both of your emotions get away from you and you say you love each other. If things go south, could the subordinate say he or she didn't feel like they had a choice?

Heidi Matthews is a Canadian law professor who asked this in relation to the metoo movement and Monica Lewinsky. During the 90s, the debate was over Clinton lying, but no one ever challenged that Lewinsky consented. But today, people retroactively look back at that time and ask if she had the ability to consent.

Maybe if US unemployment was setup like other countries where you could leave a job and still get on the dole, there's less of a dynamic because you could "just leave" (even though it makes it more difficult to get hired later).

I dunno; there are a whole lot of deep factors here. Life is about learning from doing things that are uncomfortable and asserting agency when you feel like you have none.


It's not the employee's job to try to make their manager a better human being or a better manager.

Also, many people would be terrible managers and avoid that career path, so it's kind of weird to expect them to "manage up".


I don't think I'd make this "Joke" in the first place, but if I was a 3rd-person observer to this scenario my honest first reaction would be (1) that's a weak attempt at humour, quickly followed by (2) that person is really sensitive.

I suspect the manager would interpret that sort of feedback as #2 as well


This is along the lines of "Ha, taking half the day off, are we?" when somebody leaves a little bit earlier than usual. It sounds like (just) a bad joke, but it has severe consequences for your working relationship.

I get that it's tempting to make jokes when you start managing for your old team members. Just accept the fact that you've switched positions and that your relationship will change. It will only make it more awkward if you don't.


> Just accept the fact that you've switched positions and that your relationship will change.

The key here, I think, is the relationship aspect. I've seen and had so many terrible managers that had no idea how to create and maintain relationships with their subordinates. Every person responds to leadership differently, and needs different things from their immediate managers. A lot of people get into a management position and immediately try to bend people to their will.

The best manager I ever had was very hands-off from a day-to-day perspective, but knew every single one of his direct reports and how to manage them individually. Some people needed more frequent check ins and a stricter set of deadlines and expectations. Others needed the space and freedom to set their own schedule and have bigger picture goals. His ability to organize and assign the expectations and needs of the business to work for the person (rather than the other way around) is something I've always admired and look for in management.


And in Salaried organisations it shows a disconnect from how professional's work, and Disrespects the employee as well.


One of the few memories I have of my old job was my grandmanager saying "leaving early today?" As I passed them in the hall at 5pm.


At my current position it's quite usual for my manager to ask why I'm still at the office when it's 3:30PM on a friday. One of the reasons I'm still working where I am.


If I were manager I would not even imply that I’m time aware either way, unless there is an ongoing issue (someone staying too late often), (or someone who is not putting in an effort). Otherwise why even bring up your consciousness of time? It signals you’re tracking it one way or another.

Edit: for addressing burnout, overwork, etc., for me personally I would start with bringing up the issue in team meetings.

Do we have enough resources, does anyone feel they’ve got too many tasks; remind everyone (no singling out) that we’re not here to be superheroes, we’re here to work in exchange for compensation and that you need a good work-life balance in order to perform well at work. If it continues to be an issue after several proclamations, then I could address individuals one on one.


I'm a manager. Why bring this up? To watch for people working too much and potential burn out. If people are working excessively, that's not good for them or the company. I want to be able to rely on people. That means knowing how much they can do. This means if they are putting in extra hours now, I come to expect that level of output from them. This is not fair to them, and not fair for the company. I don't want them burning out. I don't want them feeling as if they have to work excessive hours.

This is also why I actively encourage taking time as needed and being flexible when it comes to taking time off to take care of things during the day. It's a non-issue. Finally, it's why I pay attention to taking vacations. I actively encourage it. Often people feel the pressure of deadlines which are always looming. Through my actions, they don't feel as if they can never take time off.

Yes, I can see how you might feel if someone is watching your work hours. But it's not a single thing. It's a continuous effort and comes from a relationship you develop with the people you manage.

When I ask people why they are still working at a certain time, they know why I'm asking. The net result has been really positive for my team.


As a non-manager I'd like to add it also normalizes healthy work hours to all the employees. I've worked places where one or two devs outpaced everyone else by a fair margin because of the hours they put in. They're usually very skilled developers, but they're also putting in double the hours of anyone else. Management of course always praises their output and calls them "rockstars" or something, while ignoring the fact that they were in the office until 9pm every day this week and have dozens of commits in the past month that occured on Saturdays from Noon to 3AM.

Ignoring my personal feelings of how unhealthy I think this is for them in the long run, I just simply don't want to feel like I'm competing with them. And yeah not all workplaces feel like a competition, but in my experience the places where you constantly hear "I was up until 10 fixing that bug, but I finally solved it." "Nice work, rockstar!" do feel very competitive internally.

Also as someone with lots of anxiety (which I feel is somewhat common among developers) it really helps to hear that taking reasonable hours or a vacation is not only allowed, but encouraged. I worked at a place that switched to "unlimited vacation", but the process for getting it approved was so stressful that the majority of the developers didn't take a vacation that year.


At the same time if they're willing to do 60 hours a week of work (not if it takes them 60 hours to do 40 hours worth of work) they should probably be pointed out positively in the team meeting for putting the effort in, and privately told that it's probably not maintainable in the long term, and if they need to work that much to meet their objectives they have too much work.

But I don't see anything wrong with praising more output under the right circumstances. Everything ebbs and flows. As an IC there are times I go 3-4 days without a single commit. And there are times I have commits for 12 days straight because I'm on a roll.

I've been fighting for an "unlimited with minimum" vacation policy for the developers at my current job for a while now. It was fight to get the base increased from 2 weeks to 3, and the system doesn't allow negative PTO balances, which seems kind of draconian to me. But I'd love to see my coworkers taking 4-5 weeks a year.


So glad I live in a country with sane labor laws. We have mandated 4 weeks vacation, most places have 5 weeks. The law actually says that the employee is mandated to take 4 weeks vacation and the employer is mandated to make sure the employee takes their vacation. It's possible to "transfer" vacation days from one year to the next, but most people take their vacation every year. Looking forward to July off.


As someone with a tendency to accidentally work 60 hour weeks sometimes because I genuinely enjoy the work, I think you have to balance any praise with very clear expectations for the rest of the team. Something like "40 hour weeks are meant to be the norm and while heroism is appreciated, it is not sustainable".


Yeah, this reminds me of when I first got out of college: I worked at a small company and I never took vacations. After a couple years of never taking a vacation day, the owner started 'forcing' me to take vacations by paying for hotel and airfare to anywhere I wanted.


I've done it. My reason was to say I care about their work-life balance as much as mine, and they're performing well and it's okay to take it a little easier. My worry (and sometimes clear perception) is that they're working long hours from a place of anxiety about the progress they're making. So you tell them they're performing well and that they don't need to stay so late.

Likewise with vacations.


I hate whenever I get asked by a manager if I've got enough work. Usually I can say yes and they move on but sometimes I know that I'm supposed to say no and accept whatever new task they want to add to my backlog (along with the expectation that the new task is most important). It usually happens with the management that are not totally aware of all of my responsibilities and what I'm currently working on. They see what little I'm doing on one project and ask for more of my time, yet I'm already working nearly full-time on other projects. I know when it's about to happen too. It will occur during a meeting when my functional manager isn't in the room and a program manager sees a task that they don't want to handle themselves. It's usually a task that's been on their backlog for a while. Their eyes light up, they turn to me, and say "Hey, are you busy?"

I really do appreciate being given enough work to keep me busy, it's better than being laid off. But I really hate being given all the extra junk that no one else wants to do simply because I'm not 100% full time on that project.


It happens that you work overtime sometimes because of such extra tasks? More than 40h/week?


Agreed. If I was at an environment where people were regularly nagged about working past 3:30, it would indirectly make me feel like I had to be an early bird, and was looked down on if I wasn't.


I wonder if ppl got paid per hour, beyond a minimum say 20h week, then everyone could do what they wanted


Yep. My team knows to expect me asking them "why are you here" on the Friday ending a sprint, after we've had our planning session for the following one.

"I'm just about to head out", "okay, good", or "Just finishing up (ticket)", "How long will that takes?", "Maybe thirty minutes", "Okay; finish it up but then get outta here", or "Kid's in daycare; it's on the way home, figured I'd take this as a breather", "Okay, fair enough. As a reminder, there are phone booths, quiet rooms, and break rooms if you want to get out of your desk." Etc.


I had a manager who could sense that nothing was really getting done on a Friday afternoon and would loudly say 'go home!'


It's such a loaded question because any simple answer implies you acknowledge that 5pm is early. Gross. I hope you told them you value a healthy work life balance and left anyways. If a place fires you for that, you're better off not working there, barring exceptional circumstances.


I remember the CEO asking me that question.

However, the context was that I was walking towards the parking lot at 14:00. And so was he.


I work all hours on-site and remote, not just between 8 and 5 in the office. Your situation may have been different, but something I've learned over the years is you don't have to say anything. Just keep walking. Skipper said it best, "Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave".


Mine was "Going for a piss boy?", the guy was a somewhat crude TV / magazine celebrity of sorts, I was working as a developer on their website at the time. It was one of those people who probably could fire people on the spot if he didn't like them.


How did you like that? Did this change how you felt about the grandmanager

Did you stay until after 5 pm usually thereafter


This is why, if I ever manage, my focus will be on timely deliverables and not on time-at-desk. Give me a day when you think you can deliver something, update me as soon as you realize you can't ("manage expectations"), and do whatever you want with the rest of your time...


I think this is only half of the picture. Here's a formal framework that talks about it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Task-oriented_and_relationship...

As an example, when you are deciding whether to promote someone, you can't do it on tasks completed alone, because some of that decision has to be about (1) how well the person works with teammates, and (2) whether the person's peers believe this person is competent enough for their promotion. If you don't get those two considerations right, you compromise people's trust in your competence and the fairness of the promotion system. They're fundamentally relationship and skill development issues and not deliverables.

If you want to be a good manager, you have be fluent in both approaches, and you have to learn when to use a task oriented approach vs. a relationship oriented approach.


Thanks for sharing this.


That sounds lovely in theory but gets tricky quick with employees who give you estimates that seem too high, and then don't even meet those.

And then you have to figure out if they need help, if they're over their head, if they're being lazy, if they're getting interrupted by stuff that's not on your radar, or WTF is really going on, and if (a) they're not telling you and (b) you have no visibility into their day (say they're remote), then it gets really hard fast.

And the more insecure they feel, the less likely they are to directly tell you they need help.

So as manager: don't joke about firing, don't joke about time at desk, don't joke about performance.

But as employee: if you get your shit down, and have talked to your manager about it, and you're both good with the amount of stuff getting done, you shouldn't be concerned with taking a day off here or there, or leaving early, or working from home. But be aware that a lot of performance monitoring stuff isn't for you, and not everyone is doing as well as you are.


"estimates that seem too high, and then don't even meet those"

This is pretty much the definition of an estimate in software.


Since the estimates are almost always off, it's a perfect way for the managers to reward the people they like for political reasons, and punish the ones they don't.


> That sounds lovely in theory but gets tricky quick with employees who give you estimates that seem too high, and then don't even meet those.

How many managers are competent enough to judge that kind of stuff, and whether or not any excuses produced are reasonable? Even in the technical manager cases I've seen, maybe 1%. The people who constantly bs excuses are often the ones rewarded, as opposed to the people who actually focus on the work and take a little longer to get it done properly.


> Even in the technical manager cases I've seen

You say this as if technical managers are better managers? In my experience the opposite is almost always true.


At least for engineering manager positions, there shouldn't be any non-technical people. How are non-technical managers supposed to allocate work and judge how well their technical employees are performing.


That works until some consultant sees that one employee seems to be pretty quick getting their tasks done so management is told to have even more work assigned to them. Why give someone 30 hours of work if they are being paid to do 40 hours? The demand of work is going to inevitably fill the supply of time. As an employee, the proper way to deal with this is just find the proper amount of work you feel comfortable doing in 40 hours and make that your permanent pace. Work too fast and you'll be expected to perform like that forever. Work too slow and you'll be closer to the chopping block whenever the time comes. I'm not suggesting to be lazy and goof off as much as possible to fill the 40 hours but I am saying to expect typical management to be more concerned with how much more you could be doing rather than how much you already do.


One way that fails is when you are trying to nurture talent that really isn’t where it needs to be yet.


Maybe measure estimate accuracy over time, then, and reward improvement there.

Surely, as one gets more skilled, their estimates will tend to zero in on accuracy more


I’m just saying when someone is learning, I really am looking for them to put the time in for a while.

Skills tend to increase in nonlinear jumps, so I’m not looking for a targeted increase. I’m looking for someone to discover what they are actually capable of which is often more than they anticipate.

A great way to get there is to immerse yourself.


That is more or less what my current manager does. He's the best that I've worked with.


The basic rule of comedy, or making jokes, which is amateur comedy, is that you always punch up. It’s funny when you say “ha! you’re fired!” to your boss, but never when you say it to someone you can actually fire.

Same reason why parents (should) never joke about punishment or disciplinary action with their kids - when you have power and authority you also have a responsibility not to belittle it. People will take your power over them only as seriously as you take your responsibility towards them.


I know you're specifying amateur comedy, but it's not so clear what's up or down. A lot of people think Dave Chappelle punches down, but is he really?[1]

"Comedy is subjective, and it's offensive, it really is. And people are making these imaginary rules, like, 'Comedy can punch up, but it can't punch down.' No, comedy punches down too sometimes, sorry. You don't make up the rules for my business without consulting a few of us. This is just people deciding these random rules about my business, and they're not even the funny people at their office, probably." - Jerry Seinfeld

"Who decides what’s punching up and punching down? I have a routine about these comedians writing articles in the Guardian, trying to set the rules of comedy, insisting that we should never punch down. And I say sometimes you’ve got to punch down." - Ricky Gervais

Also, it's important to understand what the actual target of the joke is. Chris Rock sums it up as, "Talk about what they do, not what they are"[2]. I think that's a useful rule of thumb.

1. https://arcdigital.media/dave-chappelle-punches-up-55dfe906e...

2. https://youtu.be/OKY6BGcx37k?t=2533


This gets interesting, especially with Dave Chapelle, but professional comedians like Dave and Seinfeld etc. have one very specific attribute that allows them to punch up, sideways and even down – everyone always knows they're joking (sometimes even when they're not). And comedians have no power of their own, so they can speak truth to power as much as they want.

The problem is only when someone with power punches down, unlike a professional comedian (who has no power over the group s/he's punching at). That's fine, we can all laugh at ourselves.

There's also a problem with punching down when you're not a professional comedian, because now nobody knows you're joking. If you try this, you'll sound racist/classist/sexist/elitist.

The rules about comedy don't apply to professional comedians, because you know if they break them they're still trying to funny. Just like if a beginner plays a bad note on a piano, it's a novice mistake, but if a master does it it's dissonance that shakes your soul.


> The rules about comedy don't apply to professional comedians, because you know if they break them they're still trying to funny.

I don't think this is true in the modern age. Countless non-established or up and coming comedians and adjacents have gotten fired for one-off remarks in old material or social media posts. If there's a constantly evolving list (which no one person on Earth is completely aware of in its entirety because of constant evolution) of "problematic" topics that will get you fired, all you will end up with is bad comedy.

More than 30 years after its release, Eddie Murphy was basically forced to apologize for Raw; undisputed one of the greatest standup specials by one of the greatest comedians of all-time. People were calling for a boycott of Netflix because of Chappelle and Seinfeld gets shit for his remarks all the time. If these were up-and-coming comedians, they would not have a career.


Who has been fired for 'one off remarks'? Older work getting re-evaluated, viewed from a different angle, etc, is more or less how culture works. Murphy or Seinfeld don't seem to be any worse for the wear at all.


> Who has been fired for 'one off remarks'?

Google "comedians fired social media" or "comedians fired old material". If not one-off remarks then a tiny percentage of overall material.

> Older work getting re-evaluated, viewed from a different angle, etc, is more or less how culture works.

I have no problem with anyone taking a nuanced look through an entire piece while also considering the time and place when it was published. What I do have a problem with is cherry-picking through an hour plus of material and branding an entire work "problematic" or worse for a handful of jokes that were mainstream funny at the time and clearly jokes; the whole point of the profession. Most of this is amplified by social media and its ability to share short, out of context clips of anything but unfortunately there are real consequences that arise from that.

> Murphy or Seinfeld don't seem to be any worse for the wear at all.

Both of those guys are some of the greatest to ever do it. They also both have a lot of money. They're well-insulated from the consequences that others may face for similar actions; whether they be too big to blacklist or not suffering the loss of income that may devastate others.


So people aren't getting fired for 'one off remarks'. It's hard to really evaluate your claim that seemingly normal changes in cultural and social norms are some dreadful modern scourge if you can't really produce evidence it actually exists and is harming anyone. "I don't like some stuff I see on Twitter" is a problem more or less everyone experiences, it's probably not some important social ill.


> The rules about comedy don't apply to professional comedians, because you know if they break them they're still trying to funny.

This was the original notion that I was disagreeing with. If you can't think of a single comedian fired for social media posts or previous material then you really aren't educated on the topic that you are arguing about. Also, complete exaggerations like:

> dreadful modern scourge

> not some important social ill

are not conducive to conversation. I never once claimed that changes in societal norms are negative so please don't put words in my mouth. What I'm saying is that there is a complete lack of nuance or context with many of the modern forms of evaluation and nuance and context are kinda important for appreciating any artform. Some of that evaluation takes place on social media and ends up having outsized real-life effects.


It's odd you are accusing me of 'complete exaggerations' - the evidence you offered for your position was that 'countless' people have been fired for 'one off remarks'. That would absolutely be a scourge, if it were true. But it isn't, and you've now said so yourself, if I'm reading you right.


James Gunn, director of "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the first person to come to mind for me. He's not a stand-up comedian per say, but humor was undoubtedly part of his job and he got fired for some very poor jokes he made on twitter a decade prior.


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/business/media/james-gunn...

He got fired and rehired. Wasn't a comedian. Wasn't for 'one off remarks'. And the whole thing was a deliberate, targeted troll campaign. It's hardly an example of countless people being fired for one off remarks.


'Fired' doesn't make much sense for stand up. Most comedians won't play (or aren't invited to) college campuses anymore. Two decades ago every comedian would tour campuses. Something has changed drastically.


This is very anecdotal, but I've noticed that teenagers will often somewhat ape some of the remarks or attitudes from comedians they enjoy. I certainly did so as a teenager, and had peers that did the same.

While a professional comedian doesn't have any power de jure like you mention, I always wonder if their words carry weight in a more implicit way. Society has ultimately put them on a stage in front of an audience, after all. That's not to say that the comedian is responsible for other people's behaviour or thinking, but I can't help but think that the remarks of a comedian are less toothless than your idea might suggest. When someone suggests a comedian look punch up, I wonder if they're engaging with the implicit effect of comedy.


The thing about punching down is that, because of the power differential, you don't hear back when you've gone too far. You may even get the victim smiling and laughing along with you, for their own safety.

But people remember, and talk among themselves, and your name becomes known, and maybe one day there's a huge backlash. And the backlash looks disproportionate, but should really be considered in proportion to the decades of incidents it's in response to.

(You can see this happening in real time with statues of racists, especially in the UK)


Name one notable comedian who has made their career from solely "punching down" and not from being genuinely funny. This is a borderline non-existent problem that has its own self-filtering mechanism; no one is going to pay money to see a set of someone solely "punching down".


Interesting point. Chapelle can hardly punch anywhere, but down at this point with the amount of success he has had.


Ricky Gervais and Jerry Seinfeld are both well known for complaining that they can't make jokes like they used to anymore.

I think Ricky Gervais's last special had an extended bit about how Asian people sometimes mix up their L's and R's.

Seinfeld seemed flabbergasted that college students didn't think that "kids be texting and that's bad" was a good routine a couple years back.

They're just bad comedians relying on material that's decades out of date, and blaming their inability to remain relevant to the youth on "anti-PC" culture.


"Punching up" is a rather new guideline of comedy touted within specific groups and hardly an agreed upon "basic rule". While standards have changed over the years and deplatforming happens much faster now, unless you want to invalidate entire careers or widely renown material, "punching down" can and always will have the potential to be funny.


I noticed that. Who was that comic, who got Netflix special and made some sensitive jokes and the only complaint I heard was 'well, I guess some find it funny, but he really is punching down'.


I think I heard that about David Chappelle's Netflix special.


Yes, that's correct. In his case, specific quotes were selectively disclosed and context on his overall point (whether you agree with it or not) was completely lost in the process.

Most modern successful comedians are not known for one-liners. Selectively quoting through text/audio/video effectively reduces all comedians' material to one-liners and completely eliminates all the nuance and context of the original performance piece.


It applies to pretty much any situation where you have some decision making power that affects someone else, and the only reason something does or doesn't happen is because you decide it too.

The joke isn't funny if the only reason its a joke is because you haven't done it yet.


I've always disagreed with that rule, but apparently for opposite reasons from most people. I think that punching up and punching down are both bad, as a rule of thumb. They're great comedy in certain situations, but as a rule of thumb, I think they're to be avoided.

As for when they're appropriate, it's about A) the potential damage that can come from it being misconstrued or B) the potential damage that can come from you doing part of it wrong. It's more common for there to be potential harm when "punching" down than up (hence the rule of thumb), but there are situations where it's fine or bad in either direction. But a lot of those situations are only in a context of real trust, for example with friends you don't have power over who know you well already, or a comedy club where it's understood that it's all for laughs.


Don't know if I agree with "never" punching down, but I wanted to share a poignant example of what punching down poorly looks like:

https://twitter.com/davejorgenson/status/1269288466493341696

Wayne Brady and Aisha Taylor handled this extremely well, but I'm glad he stood his ground and didn't smile and laugh along, despite the situational pressure to.


Not even sure that's an example of punching down. Highlighting the absurdity of 'fits the description' is punching the system, is it not?


As someone who gets paid to do standup comedy, this is not a basic rule of comedy.

I get that it's not appropriate to punch down (especially in the work place). It is always riskier to punch down with comedy but it is 100% not a rule of comedy not to punch down.


as a general rule, all punching in the workplace is frowned upon


A US President once gave a speech joking about assassinating the Jonas Brothers with a predator drone to protect his daughter from dating them.

https://abcnews.go.com/WN/president-obama-tells-joke-jonas-b...

(Not singling out that President, but the incident was shocking.)


It's shocking but not because it's punching down on the Jonas brothers. The part making people ill at ease is not Obama as a father talking about murdering famous boys trying to date his daughters.

The actually shocking part is that the president views drone stricks, which is to say extrajudicial murders in foreign countries, so casually he thinks it's appropriate to make jokes about them.


I'm pretty sure Obama's administration pioneered the double-tap, where a drone strike is followed up several minutes later by another one, which is intended to kill those who are providing aid to the fallen. This is considered to be a war crime. He caught flak contemporaneously for this issue, and not just by Fox News, et al.

I'm generally a strong Obama supporter, but this is one area that I feel like his actions were totally indefensible. I'm not surprised by his callous attitude on the subject.


> I'm pretty sure Obama's administration pioneered the double-tap

I am pretty sure it is not a new technique - it was famously featured in the 2010 children's book Mockingjay, and I am sure Suzanne Collins didn't make it up either.

Double-tap bombing are a staple of the asymmetric warfare arsenals of spec-ops forces/guerilla/terrorists since at least the second world war, probably much longer.

(Also, it is rather unlikely that Obama ordered the airforce to start double-tapping, or even that he knew ahead of the fact, given the amount of extrajudicial killing/assassination the US forces do every month...)


Yeah, not funny because Presidents can, and often do, kill people with drone strikes. It would have been funny if he pointed the joke at a hurricane or shook his fist at God while saying it.

If he wanted to make a dad joke he could have said he had a shotgun or would box them or challenge them to a duel or something. That implication of superiority with balance can be funny, like Mike Tyson joking that he was going to kick your ass if dated his kids. Enough of a flex, but the balance is maintained because if you train hard enough or knew enough kung fu maybe you could take him.

Joking about firing people and calling a drone strike on them are not funny if you can actually do it but they can't do it back to you.


....at the White House Correspondent's Association Dinner, which is known for bad jokes?


I don't think the issue is that it wasn't recognised as a joke. It was clearly a joke. It's more about what the topic of the joke was.

Think of holocaust jokes.


Considering who were/are them, I'd say even if it was bad joke, still was funny. As a father of a girl, I'd say same joke as well.


Even ignoring the drone strike part, that whole category of jokes needs to die. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMSAcZ90QI8


[flagged]


This whole "It's really interesting that ..." rhetoric that's been somehow on the rise needs to die. State your point. Since you didn't state it, I have to guess. It seems like you're suggesting that HN is overly forgiving of Trump and overly critical of Obama, which is laughable given how HN treats the current administration. But of course you didn't actually make a point, so nobody else can really address it.


Please don't respond to one bad comment with another. The site guidelines explicitly ask you not to, for the obvious reason that it just makes the thread worse.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Mc_Big_G 26 days ago [flagged]

The downvotes refute your assertion. You know exactly what my point is.


Please don't take HN threads into flamewar.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Edit: would you please stop posting unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN? It looks like you've done it repeatedly, and it's really not what this site is for. If you'd review the guidelines and take the intended spirit more to heart here, we'd be grateful.


How do I delete my account and all my comments?


I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly - It’s easy for technical people promoted to a people management role not to realize that their words now have a significantly greater affect on morale.

The author did a good job expanding on situations that are now not funny, but here’s another one that I see all the time:

Butts in seats. As a manager, anything you say about the clock, the vacancy ratio of an employees chair, anything about time management really is not a joke. It is making the employee feel as though the work they do is not valued and that you expect them to be meat decorations prettying up an office chair.

I used to think that when I was promoted I could still be “one of the guys” - and I try hard to get quality time with the team, joke around, etc - but over time it’s become clear that I can never escape the new context in which my words and actions are perceived.

I can no longer shit on bad code like I used to - I now need to discover how we ended up with the deficiency, plan to correct it, and assure the rest of the engineers that we do have high quality standards we need to live up to.


Yep. And it only gets worse as your scope grows.

There comes a point where you'll say something like "Huh, that looks interesting, I wonder what would happen if X", just because you still have some engineering thinking left in you, and three weeks later you'll get word that somebody spun up a working group to investigate X.

If you ever wondered why manager emails to a large team always look super-formal? We've touched that particular live wire, and would rather not do that again.


Hit and run management. Suggest to your engineers how to do things and then disengage, leaving them to follow your directive, while knowing that you are dead wrong.

Twitter had to scrap their entire rewrite that took one year, because the dev manager told the team HOW to do it, triggering a death march project.

Bottom line: if you don't trust the people who are down in the trenches to make technical decisions, be a manager at Chipotle. But probably goes for Chipotle as well.


This is a beautiful illustration of the misunderstandings I mean. Nobody was talking about "making suggestions". This is typical engineering musings aloud. ("I wonder what would happen if...")

I've made it clear in the previous post that there's no intent to direct the team anywhere, and yet your ideas about management led you to interpret it as somehow ordering the team to do things. As not trusting them to make technical decisions. As triggering a death march project, for crying out loud. (fwiw, the project got stopped the moment I realized what had happened, with apologies on my part. We're not all monsters :)

I don't fault you for it. Your past experience shapes you, and heaven knows we have enough bad managers in this industry to trigger severe PTSD in many of us.

But that's the reason to word things extremely carefully, depending on audience. There's a good contingent of people who give management words a lot of weight, and so we need to be very cautious what we say when it affects a wide audience, especially if it includes people we haven't built deep trust with.

And while I don't know about Chipotle, I can confirm that all my managers in food places had a tendency to micromanage ;)


> There comes a point where you'll say something like "Huh, that looks interesting, I wonder what would happen if X", just because you still have some engineering thinking left in you, and three weeks later you'll get word that somebody spun up a working group to investigate X.

This is somewhat avoidable. You can communicate this to your team. You can make it clear you invite feedback and corrections, and demonstrating that in practice by responding well when people take you up on that. You can ask questions in a way that invites answers. You can make your relative level of expertise clear in an area when you ask questions.

And on the occasions when this still happens, sometimes it'll be because your musings sparked an idea in someone, and they thought it was a good idea to investigate X.


Yes, you can avoid this to some extent. But as team size grows, the scope for misunderstanding grows. And so your communication has to become as clear as you can possibly make it.

Which means musings, mumblings, funny remarks, sarcasm, and snarkiness are right out. All of those require shared context, and the bigger the audience, the less shared context there is.


I worked in a place once where, when you met with any of the senior execs, you had to have 2-3 notetakers present, so that every word the guy said could be jotted down and turned into actions. Everything that came out of an exec's mouth had to be turned into a project, because nobody was willing to stick their neck out and try to distinguish between "random musings" and a "command to do this thing". It was a very toxic environment. It was kind of like those guys always following Kim Jong Il around with notepads recording everything Dear Leader says.


Reminds me of the sticky bear sketch from Silicon Valley https://youtu.be/uAxAVusStCg


That's because some managers do express their instructions like this, by dropping "hints".


Not quite the same thing, but this reminds me of my last boss who would send me what seemed to be a random comment about our infrastructure or code. Or maybe he would send an article about something that happened at another company.

I had to guess at what he meant by it. Did he think I didn't already know about what he sent? Did he want me to take a specific action about the situation?

It was super annoying, and of course I usually had to ask point-blank: "Did you want me to take a specific action about XYZ?"

Heaven forbid he actually ask me "Can you do XYZ?" or "Do you think XYZ would be helpful in our organization?"


> you'll get word that somebody spun up a working group to investigate X

That "somebody" is often one of the yes-men of the manager, these are the types of people that management usually rewards so of course they are going to take your suggestion as gospel. Upper management often does not appreciate when you point out they have no idea what they are talking about, even if you try and be polite about it.


Another thing: don't compare people in your team to recently let-go people.

As a survivor after a series of lay-offs, I took over a project from someone who was recently laid off (let's call him Joe), got asked a really vague question about it and responded, IMO reasonably, that clarification was needed. All I got back was "That's a Joe-type of answer" (emphasis theirs).

I don't think it was funny, and it certainly didn't help my understanding of the problem. I brought this up in a meeting and was accused of being "too snippy lately" shortly after. It's the type of thing where if didn't already have 5 years of enjoying my role, I'd probably be looking for a new one.


You're not alone. I'd be quite unconformable to hear that. Sorry that you have to experience such awkward conversation and be called "too snippy" after complaining about it on top of that.


I've always had a really dry sense of humor. When I moved into a management role, my director took me aside and said something to the effect of, "I have a dry sense of humor too. When I started managing people I had to build a filter between the jokes that pop into my head and the words that escape my mouth."

This was from my first year of managing when I had one screw-up that led people who overheard the interaction to report it. The joke was something like, "Oh hey, the start time for our meeting has already passed, and here we are still working. Why do you hate meeting with me?" In hindsight, it's now obvious to me that when there's a power differential, the other person can easily be left wondering, "Does my boss really think I don't like him? Oh my god, I can't ever be late to another meeting with him again!"

I'm now years down the road from that, and I cringe at some of the things I said when I was new to the role. I'm glad I've had time to learn some lessons in communication as a manager before COVID-19, because now that interactions have been scoped down to text chats, emails, and occasional video calls, people have to make inferences from a much smaller set of signals. I'm having to work twice as hard to be very direct and clear about what I want people to understand, and I have to go out of my way to deliberately ensure that interactions, both one-on-one and as a group, happen as frequently as is necessary to maintain the health of the individuals and of the team.


Good example of how one can grow into a leadership role. About 99% of the basic skills required to lead can be taught or learned.


> now that interactions have been scoped down to text chats, emails, and occasional video calls, people have to make inferences from a much smaller set of signals.

This was one of the biggest adjustments to working remote for me. When I started my first remote job I was a little insecure about my technical skills and it stressed me out not having those soft signals to gauge how well I was performing and what managers and coworkers thought of me.

For any managers of remote teams reading this, I recommend making a point of giving regular feedback to new team members. When working in-person it's much easier for people to pick up a general sense of what others think they are doing well or poorly at.


An experienced CEO joined a mid-sized company that I worked at a few years. His opening line, in his first all hands was a joke about firing the people who were a few minutes late to the call. It was obviously a joke, but you really can't make a worse impression and he was gone within a year.


I thought these people are paid multiple millions because they're supposed to be "top talent"?


They are paid millions because once you win the birth lottery, and if you are tall and loud enough, failing upwards becomes the default that is very hard to beat, even if you try.

And it's really, really hard to learn from your mistakes unless someone calls you out on your shit, which almost never happens to these people.


If the CEO came in and was amazing, then she/he'd get paid the same amount.

I mean, it's the exact same with engineers. They get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars because they're "top talent", but experience and resume does not necessarily a good engineer make. You interview and make a guess, but it's not like the best engineers always get paid the most and the worst get paid the least. They all get paid roughly the same.

The only difference is that bad engineers generally don't get fired at the rate that bad CEOs do. But I guess that's because the scale of impact is a lot less, and they're not so easy to identify and blame.


Top con man talent maybe.


Are you sure this is not David Brent from The Office?


Or Robert California?


I find that there are two aspects of good management that aren’t talked about enough.

First, power. Managers have explicit and implicit power, and you should understand both. Joking about firing someone is an abuse of your explicit power, but you should also be careful about excessive use of your ability to issue direct orders. Similarly, be aware how the implicit power of a manager affects conversations, and do little things like vote last to give others a chance to speak before they know where you’ve landed.

Secondly, good management is a lot of emotional labor. A portion of the emotional well being of your team is your problem, especially around things related to work itself. If managing is emotional labor, then do try to not make your job harder by freaking your directs out.


I am really surprised one has to write a blog post about this.

I am not a manager, but here is a question for managers, have you or anyone you know, joked about firing someone?

In my opinion, that would be incredibly cruel and stupid.


>In my opinion, that would be incredibly cruel and stupid.

Usually, it's more ignorance rather than (intentional) cruelty. If your office has a relaxed atmosphere, as a manager, it is very easy to make the mistake of thinking that you are just a regular part of the gang. But of course, you're not, and everyone (except you) is aware of your status and the fact that you control their continual employment, bonuses/raises and career advancement.

This view is reinforced in modern tech culture which is deeply uncomfortable with power and status hierarchies without realizing that a proper hierarchy with defined roles and responsibilities actually makes everyone more comfortable because everyone knows where they stand. The Valve case study of a fully horizontal organization is complete bullcrap because they replaced defined roles and responsibilities and chain of command with an ambiguous and implicit set of roles, responsibilities and chain of command. Nobody there believes that Gabe Newell is just a regular joe, regardless of what his title says.


> ignorance rather than (intentional) cruelty

Yes, and that ignorance is a _privelege_ of power. Most employees don't think they can risk-free joke about firing their boss.


>Yes, and that ignorance is a _privelege_ of power.

No it's not.

There we go. My statement has as much evidentiary support as yours.

Have you ever thought about the usefulness and evidentiary support of using this weird leftist nomenclature to reframe traditionally understood concepts? Like what value did you bring by reframing 'ignorance' as 'privilege' - but 'privilege' not in the sense of the dictionary definition but as a loaded concept that came out of dark recesses of some leftist writings that has no actual backing and does not actually lead to a better understanding of the world.


Seems like a pretty straightforward point to me. Powerful people are punished less for their lack of understanding of less powerful, even though the consequences of their ignorance are worse.

Who has more reason to worry, a manager making a joke about firing someone, or an employee making a joke about forming a union with their coworkers? There's a reason that one of these two groups needed to be given legal protection for their joke.


>Seems like a pretty straightforward point to me.

I'm sure it does, but it's not.

>Powerful people are punished less for their lack of understanding of less powerful

That's not true. Or it's true in some situations and not in others. It is also true in some situations of subordinates.

>Who has more reason to worry, a manager making a joke about firing someone, or an employee making a joke about forming a union with their coworkers?

There are occasions where an employee can make a joke that would get a manager into trouble or into MORE trouble if they made that joke. There are behaviours that would get a manager into trouble and not the employee. The managerial and subordinate positions each come with their own set of rights, responsibilities, and privileges. My good friend, for example, declined a managerial 'promotion' because he was happy doing what he was doing and didn't want the extra stress and pressure. Back in uni when I worked as a part-timer at Staples, my manager was the hardest worker I've ever seen. She pulled crazy hours while some of us messed around and did as little as we could to get through the shift. To top it all off, she is the one that got yelled at by difficult customers, and not us - even if we screwed up. You can come up with alternative examples where the manager was a lazy bum and employees were super hard workers ... why? Because human organizations are complex and each one has different dynamics at play and different cultures. So thinking about it terms of the idiotic and shallow 'privilege' idea misses all those dynamics and complexity. So no, 'privilege' is not the right metaphor for the discussion at hand, and it isn't straightforward.


Yes, I guess nothing is ever that simple. But the fact that you are able to have a dialogue about this shows that leftist nomenclature can lead to understanding in the same way as any other nomenclature, which is the understanding that's developed in a back and forth dialogue about a subject. Maybe if the OP had declared their belief as an unquestionable religious dogma (as many people do with their political opinions), there would be grounds to criticize them, but they didn't.


Privilege isn't weird leftist nomenclature, it's a well-documented fact about how the world works. Some people receive less blow-back for their misbehavior than others, because of their position in society. Whether their misbehaviour is from ignorance or cruelty is irrelevant to this point:

More powerful[1] people are more insulated from the consequences of their ignorance.

The response to you did not contradict your statement. It added important context to it.

[1] Two people can have more, or less power, relative to eachother, depending on the social context they are in.


>Privilege isn't weird leftist nomenclature

Yes it is.

>it's a well-documented fact about how the world works

Maybe in marxist writings, but it isn't a 'well-documented fact'.

>More powerful[1] people are more insulated from the consequences of their ignorance.

And that statement is factually wrong in the general case. I made this argument to another poster: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23479872

>Some people receive less blow-back for their misbehavior than others, because of their position in society.

Talk about a truism. Yes, some people receive less blow-back for their misbehavior due to their position in society.

It could be the case that one individual receives blow-back for this misbehaviour because, for example, they are in a position of responsibility whereas someone who isn't, wouldn't. That happens all the time. How about this, in my city, vagrancy is completely unpunished, even though it's illegal, but you're going to get tagged if you let your chihuahua off-leash in an empty park. Are homeless people privileged? Under a colloquial reading of definition, they sure are. But we know you don't mean that because you're importing extreme Leftist ideas into this definition and being dishonest that you are doing that.


With apologies for pulling out the dictionary, but here we go:

https://google.com/search?q=define+privilege

> a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.


Yes. That's the dictionary definition of 'privilege'. Now show me where in that definition is the position of 'manager' cast as a 'privileged' position or an example of 'privilege of power'? You had to import that from ideas put out from leftists writings where this word is reframed and redefined to mean something completely different. This bait-and-switch is a dishonest equivocation on your part because you're hijacking regular, commonly understood words in order to backdoor extreme ideas.

Back to the topic at hand, another way to look at a position of 'manager', that actually matches reality, is to admit that it is a necessary role in any sized organization of people focusing on completing a common task. This is true if the organization is a club, or a sports team or a corporation because there will always be a need, to manage and organize groups of people. This position comes with its own set of responsibilities and accountability and as such frequently the punishments and repercussions for 'misbehaviour' are greater than what a subordinate employee would receive for the same action. It's not an intrinsically 'privileged' position. I made this argument to another poster: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23479872


Slightly related. My father owned a restaurant when I was growing up and employed local high school students as dishwashers. I was young, probably around 12 and I was at a summer camp that our dishwasher at the time was also attending and I made a joke to him about getting him fired. Ill never forget how mad my father was with me when he found out and how sternly he reprimanded me. He stressed early on with me that when you have control over people's livelihoods you never ever abuse the power dynamic that comes with that position.


Thanks for saying this. I'm thankful for people like your father.

I grew up on the other side of that power dynamic and it still affects me in a number of unpleasant and sometimes crippling ways.


I spent most of my career with what I now consider abusive bosses. I didn't even start to realize it until I lucked into a few good bosses. You go through that for years and you become so anxious about asking for things, taking vacations, making any peep, etc. You want to just be as quiet as possible and not ruffle any feathers.

I've heard and seen way worse than jokes about being fired. I started out in the web hosting industry, it was insanely toxic, unless that's just how jobs were during the 08 recession. I was pretty much a kid and had no experience back then, so I had no frame of reference.


As a non manager, from arm chair, when presented as an abstract concept, I can see it seeming incredulous.

The whole point however is that in the moment, in the context, with familiar people, as a new manager, there will be part of your brain that says "Do this". The advice is not even targeting the jerk-manager, who is ignorant and boisterous and does this consistently. It is targeting a manager in transition who may do this accidentally, as a misfiring instinct. It's the stereotypical best man / maid of honours making an inappropriate joke at a wedding with best intentions... but consequences.

To your question therefore:

Yes, there frequently is that part of one's brain for new team leads in some situations.

No, don't do it.

FWIW: To those taking a cynical view on such articles - There are any number of things, managementy or technical, that seem obvious when written down... but still get done wrong any day of the week :). In related but different context: my previous transition from hands-on to architect was similarly enlightening - all the designs and solutions that seemed so obvious and easy when presented with finished document; were so much more intimidating when faced with a blank slate, an empty sheer where any design pattern, infrastructure architecture can go :O.

It's scary to be a new architect, it's scary to be a new manager, and simple, actionable, clearly-good advice can be a good way to gain comfort and confidence, and provide a starting point to build on.


Describing a joke out of context can make a person sound very cruel indeed. I've been in situations where someone has made a joke about me dying, for example, and I found it to be funny and light-hearted. But if you strip out the context and say "he made a joke about me being murdered", it sounds far, far more cruel than it really was.

The reason the blog post was written is that jokes that would usually be fine among friends can take on a different tune as soon as the power dynamic changes, and that's not always obvious to the person with the upper hand.


I have had multiple managers make stupid jokes like this. It never gets any better. You appear to have been more fortunate than I.


Did you read the article? People make mistakes. They might try to break the tension by cracking a joke without realizing the effect it will have.


Don't make jokes unless you're 100% damn sure people will react the right way. To quote J Scalzi: "The failure mode of clever is 'asshole'".

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/06/16/the-failure-state-of-...


Yes I did. The point I was trying to make was, this really shouldn’t come to anyone naturally. It is like writing a blog post about not bullying anyone. People still do it, but I think those people are psychologically unstable, should be isolated and needs help.


In the context of one team member gets promoted to manage the rest of the team, I can see how this type of "joke" could happen. If the team was really close and everyone was friends, it's easy to keep the friend mindset and make what you think is just a dumb joke without really thinking it through.


Yep. It’s natural. It’s happened to me, and I’ve done it as well. It never bothered me when it happened to me, so I thought it was OK. This is a good reminder to be more careful.


I've had this happen at two jobs. Both times I immediately voiced that that was in poor taste, and next time they joke about it they'd best just let me go, because I don't want to work for someone who doesn't respect my livelihood. At the first job I was reprimanded for being "confrontational", which led to the second job where the manager apologized and took it to heart; we have a great working relationship now. It's the manager's responsibility to be the champion of good communication.


Only time I've seen a manager joke like that was with a senior engineer that also joked about quitting fairly often. It was banter and it worked for them. Same manager never joked about it with anyone else though.


Yeah that's about the only time it works. When I was managing a former teammate we used to joke about it, but it was just between us and there was never any reason to worry.

In general, though, never a good joke. And even with friends, be careful.


There are a lot of tech blog posts to the effect of "Here is the obviously common sense business thing we learned" as a way of building a personal brand. I blame it on the fact that the tech culture starts in HS or College and then takes a worker straight into the industry; HS coder -> University -> jr coder role -> startup, but without the exposure to other contexts/jobs/roles/experiences.

But yeah, it's basic professionalism -- don't joke about firing people, quitting, pay cuts/raises, etc.


> I blame it on the fact that the tech culture starts in HS or College and then takes a worker straight into the industry; HS coder -> University -> jr coder role -> startup

As a counter to this, I have seen multiple managers make jokes like this and they all came from nontechnical backgrounds and had 20+ years of experience. I literally had a (nontechnical) manager say in a supposedly joking manner once about going to some meeting “Well you want to put food on the table for your family don't you? So remember that you have to be there for <some not-that-important meeting> Ha ha ha”.

So the whole “it's just coders learning basic professionalism” narrative might not be as cut-and-dried as you think it is. One (unproven) hypothesis I have is that it's possible that people who went to college and had their first decade's worth of jobs in a comfortable economic climate are more comfortable making these kind of jokes than others who were not so fortunate.


> One (unproven) hypothesis I have is that it's possible that people who went to college and had their first decade's worth of jobs in a comfortable economic climate are more comfortable making these kind of jokes than others who were not so fortunate.

It's probably both that and how financially secure they are in general, whether that be via grunt work, inheritance, safety net, whatever.

I spent the first 5 years of my career spending the equivalent of minimum wage or less. Now I don't need to give a fuck. Realistically, on a starter dev salary, you can save >50% if that's your target.

As a result, it's a manual process for me to empathise with people who actually _need_ their job.

Don't get me wrong - I understand their predicament - it's just not an automatic impulse, because for me, work is like a side quest I do to keep myself ticking over in the long term, a bit like regular exercise or a good diet, it's never present constantly in my mind like I imagine it must be for a wage slave.


> ...and how financially secure they are in general, whether that be via grunt work, inheritance, safety net, whatever.

True. Privilege, and assumptions of “But of course you can find another job” probably play a huge part too. I've never had a manager belonging to an underrepresented community in tech, but I imagine they would be far less likely to say something like that.


Every single job, every single manager I've had, has made this "joke".


My manager does this. My managers' boss does it to him. One of the very few complaints I have about my management or my job.

I've sort of become inoculated to it though. Was tough at first though, especially since I have some (undiagnosed) manner of anxiety disorder. So the joke would happen and I would think about it for the rest of the day, if not longer.


It is probably a regional humor thing but with so much mobility these days it's hard to use your regional humor without offending people.

In some places you can ask "Are you smoking crack?" when someone suggests something silly or wrong. In other places that would be very wrong.

In some places certain words are insults and other places they're euphemisms.

Some places tolerate or encourage "harmless" sexual innuendo, others do not.

I have had employees that would appreciate a joke about performance or firing so long as it was obvious that it wasn't a veiled threat. I've had employees who that would probably have them working on finding another job. I'm not the type to joke about that, but I know who would appreciate it and who wouldn't.

Edit: typo


> have you or anyone you know, joked about firing someone?

It can be a good joke if it is immediately obvious that it is a joke.

I would rather work with alright people that make stupid jokes than some of the more formally correct ones who'd mess up my salary month after month, drag me through stupid American-style personal-improvement-programs in hope of finding a firable offense etc. (And no, they didn't find anything, and I had my job until I was ready for something else ;-)

That said I certainly wouldn't recommend that sort of jokes and my guess is the people who come up with those kinds of jokes are mostly exactly the same people who shouldn't try them as it really isn't obvious at all.


I recall the game of thrones episode where this guy is telling a really old and well-known joke, and when he gets to the punchline, basically everybody in the room can't help but blurt it out before he can.

Or if you're in line and the cashier can't ring up your stuff for some technical reason, and you blurt out "well, I guess it must be free, huh?" But they have heard that one ever single day since they started.

Even I, paragon of ...uh... stuff... I once cracked a joke in the TSA line.

I would just imagine that most of this is human nature and I expect graduating to a higher level of power and responsibility has the same sort of well-traveled detours.


I've seen it a bunch in companies where the management was less formal - but not in IT, my impression of IT culture is borderline autistic - social interactions are very awkward compared to other industries I've worked in (manufacturing, marketing and newspapers) so this wouldn't go over well. Admittedly I didn't fit in well in those circles because I would put myself in the IT category, but I can still spot the difference. Even the tone of this discussion sounds so formal and alien to how people usually interact.

So I saw situations where it was said as a joke and taken as one, I wouldn't describe it as cruel or stupid.


The CEO of one of my previous companies at his birthday celebration joked at one of the employees that if he doesn't sing Happy Birthday song louder he will fire him.

And this is not the worst that has come out of his mouth.


That's kinda perfect if you want to mess with them - lots of witnesses!

Refuse to sing, from then on they can't fire you without a strong possibility you'll win an unfair dismissal suit. YMMV.


So how was working at Dunder Mifflin?


Nope, small company in Montreal.


Having to explain this out is pretty common or understandable. And I think it's less about the specific example not saying X, and more about new leadership role = same words now mean totally different things, especially if it's your first go at it.

Many think that leadership IQ is something innate, but some aspects definitely either have to be explained, or learned the hard way. That's totally ok though - it means most of us have what it takes to manage if we're willing to learn.


I once jokingly said it to an employee and immediately felt bad about it. Did a quick all-hands (we're a small company), apologized and said it wouldn't happen again.


On our (very small) team, our manager jokes about it constantly. Every day. It's a running joke. But we all get along and know he's 100 % joking and he is very protective of his team. So in our case I think it's fine.

So to your first point, I think the managerial relationship is complicated enough that it warrants thinking about it, anyway.


If my previous manager had made a joke like that, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. We had a great relationship inside and outside of work and my job was very secure. If my current manager did, it would make me nervous -- i'm new to the team and I don't know him that well. It's all about context.


Not sure if this blog post should or should not be written, but having seen many managers bootstrapping themselves out of individual contributor roles; you have to learn somewhere. Blog posts are just one avenue.


I've seen it happen a few times and in every case, the context was such that it was very well known to be a joke and done in a very self-deprecating manner so it wasn't a problem.

But it still shouldn't be done.

Cases, where it's used as a tiny micro-aggression or kind of with a dark undertone, are especially bad.

New managers may not quite comprehend the existential nature of the comment.

There are a ton of worse things that new managers do, usually, things need to be spelled out clearly.


I have witnessed the CEO of a small company joke about firing people. It was embarrassing.


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