How to Be the Kind of Supervisor Who Your Team Can Confide In


We tell people to “speak up” when they’re experiencing harassment in the workplace. In theory, there are policies in place to protect those who are getting harassed. However, theory does not always line up with reality.

I’ve had several supervisors who I wouldn’t tell my birthday much less that I am uncomfortable in a situation while on the job. When a supervisor looked at a few us of speaking in Spanish and told us to “shut the *blank* up with that language” we stood there shocked. When my 40+ supervisor told my 25-year-old self that I made HER feel uncomfortable, I had no one to turn to when I was subsequently fired weeks later.

Now as an entrepreneur, and occasional supervisor to others, I’m extra cautious about how I present myself so that I am creating a positive experience for others so that they feel comfortable talking to me, should an issue arise. Here are some tips so that you can be the supervisor your employees can trust to talk with about any potential harassment incidents.

  1. Respect the power dynamic. Understand that as a supervisor you have more authority. While you may want to be the cool supervisor, you will never be their equal peer. Respect this relationship and understand your professional privilege.
  2. Honor appropriate boundaries. If you’re the kind of supervisor who breaks your own rules then that will come across as someone who’s unreliable to honor boundaries such as confidential conversations.
  3. Get to know your team. You don’t have to be their BFF but knowing some personal information helps your team feel like you’re invested in them. This is one of the ways to establish trust and mutual respect. Remember things like birthdays, their pets’ names, what school they went to, what teams they root for, and/or what their passions are.
  4. Champion their accomplishments. Be that boss who wears the cheerleader hat just as much as the disciplinarian hat. When someone you supervise does something well, let others know. To command respect you have to earn it.
  5. Follow proper protocol. If someone on your team comes to you with a story of harassment then support them in the company procedures for reporting the incident. Whether they come directly to you first or you find out from human resources, be compassionate and allow them the space they need to get through this.

Your actions tell a lot about who you are and what you value so if you’re the kind of supervisor who doesn’t set and stick to appropriate boundaries, then you won’t come across as a supervisor who can be trusted.

Harassment in the workplace is not a new phenomenon and if we’re being honest, it will continue to go on. High profile scandals simply put a spotlight on the issue and it gives the rest of us a gut check so that we’re not enabling such behaviors in our own workplace.  

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