11 of the scariest things a boss can say that are guaranteed to leave you shaking

Julia Gifford 31.10.2022

Jack-o-lanterns, cotton cobwebs strewn across desks, office dress-up parties, and punch with fake eyeballs floating in it – these are all staples of the typical Halloween office vibe. But none of these supposedly “scary” elements even compare to the terror that can be instilled by a boss, often with just a few words.

Here are some of the most terrifying things a boss can say that’s actually going to leave you quaking in your boots. The good news is you don’t have to be helpless. Use this guide to prepare yourself for the worst while making yourself a more valuable employee.

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1. “We need to talk”

Possibly THE most sinister thing a boss can say because it’s shrouded in uncertainty and guaranteed to make your imagination run wild about all of the possibilities of the topic at hand.

This sentence leaves you asking: “Why didn’t they just say what we’re talking about?” They could’ve simply stated the topic in their sentence, like “we have to talk about the new website redesign.” Then there would be no doubt about their motives and no spike in blood pressure on your end.

Your mind will be left reeling because it seems obvious that there must be a reason for this word choice. As a result, you’re going to be on pins and needles until you find out.

What you can do about it: 

Often, it’s actually a result of poorly articulated ideas on the boss’ side. The only thing you can do is play it cool, keep your head up, and keep doing your work at maximum capacity. Breathing deep may help you bring yourself back to reality.

2. “You’re off early”

Ever been in a situation where you’re about to go through the door and are suddenly accosted by your boss? “Oh, hey Sarah, you’re off early today,” she says with a fake-friendly smile. And that’s how you’re being back-handedly shamed into staying longer, even though it’s the end of the workday.

Long working hours, never-ending grinding, and a work-is-life kind of attitude was what the hustle culture trend was built on. Despite this work culture currently experiencing its downfall, there are still employers who expect their employees to be available after working hours.

And that’s not cool.

While extra working hours may lead to higher output, in the long run, it’s just not worth it. Regular overtime hours can lead to burnout and other mental health issues, which may require you to take a prolonged break from work to deal with them.

What you can do about it: 

Don’t let your boss shame you into feeling bad. Highlight the progress made (read: putting a focus on work done rather than hours clocked). Better yet, let them know that they can always check your DeskTime stats to see how much time you’re putting in.

3. “Can we quickly dip into a meeting room?”

The initial thought that goes through your mind is: “Omg, what is so intimate that can’t be said in front of others and wasn’t previously planned for a meeting? It must be bad news!”

Though the casual comment is bound to make your blood race, from a boss’ perspective, it can be anything.

What you can do about it: 

Keep a cool head, and go with grace. More often than not, it’s not going to be anything to worry about. Simply a request to help out with a project, an update in your contract, or better yet – a raise!

4. “You’re going to report to [insert colleague frenemy] now”

Oh hell no!

You’ve been butting heads with this co-worker for months, and now you’ll be reporting to them? This is a surefire sign that things are about to go downhill in terms of your job satisfaction.

What you can do about it: 

Take the high road and kill them with quality work, initiative, and accomplishment. Show them what they’re missing out on, and what a true leader would’ve looked like. The worst-case scenario? Find another company that appreciates what you bring to the table.

5. “You’re going to have to present at the conference”

Public speaking is the #1 fear in the world, with 75% of people experiencing anxiety over public speaking. It even has its own name – glossophobia. What better way to make you shake in your boots than compound public speaking and fear for your job (for not doing well with the aforementioned public speaking)?

What you can do about it: 

Consider representing your company in public as an honor and an opportunity. Not only are you the face of the business, but you can also use this experience to develop a new skill, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and learn something new.

If you experience public speaking anxiety like the majority of the population, check out these 10 tips for improving your public speaking skills.

6. “Convince me I shouldn’t outsource your job”

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According to 2022 data, 66% of businesses in the United States outsource at least one department. In this increasingly connected world with access to talent worldwide, it’s understandable that managers everywhere are tempted to outsource jobs to regions with lower salary expectations. 

In a worldwide survey of business leaders, 59% cited cost-cutting as a driver in outsourcing processes. What’s worse, with the soaring global economy crisis, the need to cut costs will likely increase. That’s the worst nightmare for an employee.

What you can do about it: 

You have two options. If you’re really confident, you can try to call their bluff and say – sure, if you can find someone who can do the job as efficiently and qualitatively as myself, then go right ahead.

If you don’t think they’re bluffing, you can appeal to your cultural sensitivity, the added bonus of being available on-site and in the same time zone (being able to move quickly is a big differentiator for businesses who need to move fast).

7. “We’re having an open-bar Christmas party”

Oh no. Not only does this mean another chance to embarrass yourself by having one-too-many and telling your boss everything you think of them, but it also puts you in the path of colleagues under the influence, who might be tempted to get a bit more “well-acquainted” than you’re interested. And we all know that skipping the Christmas party isn’t an option – you have to show cheer!

What you can do about it: 

Keep the drinks to a minimum, show up for the beginning while everyone’s still presentable, make some small talk and make sure to be seen. Once things get a little rowdy, don’t be afraid of skipping out (despite the free wine) – you’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run.

8. “You’re in charge of the interns”

As if you don’t have enough on your plate already, now you’ll be doing your own work, thinking of work for the interns to do, and then fixing all of that work afterward. Sigh.

What can you do about it: 

Though it may seem daunting at first, consider this an opportunity to get ahead of the rest. You’ve been blessed with a team of minions who are ready to do your bidding. Assign tasks that support and complement your business area, compile them, and then present them to your higher-ups.

9. “We have to talk about your sales numbers”

It’s no secret that any boss or manager will always want you to be performing even better. But this often comes at the price of your nerves and mental well-being. As if it wasn’t bad enough that you spent the month worrying about meeting your monthly goals, your boss is still reprimanding you for it.

lets talk about sales numbers

What you can do about it: 

Be prepared. Come with your own statistics of what you’ve achieved, what your incentives are, what’s in the pipeline, and plans to grow your stats in the future. With this level of preparedness, you’ll be able to easily put your manager’s doubt or worry at bay because they’ll feel confident that you’re in control.

10. A scheduled meeting at the end of a Friday

Do you know how many people get fired on Friday afternoons? The majority! When your boss and/or HR representatives schedule a meeting for Friday afternoon, it’s logical that your mind goes into overdrive, preparing for the worst – an axe to your proverbial job neck.

What you can do about it: 

There’s the saying – if you can’t change it, then accept it. The best thing you can do is steel yourself against the possibility and go in with your head held high. Who knows – it could very well simply be a convenient time when all of the meeting participants could make it, and it’s all in your head. Grace above all, and hopefully, it won’t come to that. But if it does, remember, when one door closes, another opens.

11. “We’re switching back to in-office work”

We hated the pandemic for many reasons but loved it for one – the chance to try remote work. Even the most conservative companies were forced to allow their employees to work from home. The result? The world didn’t stop spinning, work got done, and 64% of workers reported better work-life balance.

In the post-pandemic world, no one really wants to go back to “normal.” In fact, according to a DeskTime survey, 37.1% want to switch to hybrid work, where they can decide when they go to the office and when they work remotely. But as we all know, managers don’t always respect their employees’ wishes.

What you can do about it: 

There’s always the option to talk to your boss about the reasons why remote work is actually good for the company. Show them relevant examples of how working remotely has been more productive because of fewer distractions and more “deep work” or how you get more done in the mornings because you’re not exhausted from commuting.

The bad news, however, is that if you work for a company with hundreds or thousands of employees and this is a company-wide policy, there might not be much you can do. Unless the managers start to experience the negative side effects of their decisions, such as mass resignation, lowered employee motivation, or a drop in productivity, the back-to-the-office rule is here to stay.

Wrap up

Whatever spooky encounters you may have, know that you’re not alone. People all over the world are being left terrified by off-handed comments from their higher-ups. 

The good news is you don’t have to be helpless. Use this guide to prepare yourself for every circumstance while making yourself a more irreplaceable employee at the same time.

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