Why You Shouldn’t Describe Subordinates / Employees Like You Own Them

The specific situation this article is about, is one in which you’re describing the relationship you have with a subordinate to someone else. The subordinate the conversation is about can be your driver, your gardener, or your cook. The people whose services you employ are typically lower in the contextual hierarchy than yourself. You hold power over them in that specified situation, because their position, as compared to yours, is more vulnerable.

Though it’s their every right to do so, people who hire others’ services often overlook the sensitivities present in communicating about that person. The mistake they make, from a social skills standpoint, is one of hinting at an ownership of the people they employ. “This is my driver, Eddie,” they’ll say. Or they’ll introduce their neighbors to, “My gardener Jacob, who’ll help me get my lawn in order this summer.”

The context of this article is not only a sensitive one from the employee’s standpoint, but from the employer’s viewpoint too. Those who hire people to work for them will likely find issue with having to police their communication surrounding the people who they hire. They’ll assume total freedom in how they communicate about their employees to others, as rightfully, they’re the ones paying them. These people are not wrong. This article doesn’t argue against using possessive dialogue, it simply hopes to motivate you not to.

The standpoint this article looks at this topic from, is one of benefiting you, the employer. There are a number of benefits you’ll witness if you socially extend a hand down to your subordinates and bring them up to your level in the hierarchy. Rather than reminding people of the social gap between the people you employ and yourself, attempt to muddy the waters just a little bit by hinting at a partnership existing between yourself and your subordinates.


The Effect on the Work You Paid For

As a general rule, people would prefer to be in a position to hire someone than to be hired by someone. That preference thereby, creeps in the background of all the interactions you have with the people who you employ. By reminding yourself, your employee, and others of the power you hold in your relationship with those you employ, you remind your employee of their preference to be in your shoes rather than their own.

They’ll be reminded of their role as nothing more than an employee first, and person second. By referring to them by their explicit role, you’ll discard the benefits of playing to their desires to be on your level in the hierarchy. By being slow to expose their subordinate position, you’ll convey the notion that you view your employee as an equal. You’ll elevate the confidence that individual has in their role, as it pertains to working for you.

The downstream effect seems to include these people reciprocating your tendency to not label them to be inferior to you. By indirectly alluding to a partnership rather than an employment – even if employment is obvious to onlookers – you’d encourage your employee to live up to the image you portray them with. More likely than not, those you hire will yearn to prove you right in your tendency to ignore their subordinate status. They’ll be made to feel special in a way, and will think of themselves as above other workers in the same role who work for someone else.

The culmination of these feelings seems to result in a net positive for you to gain from. Though there are risks to your employees becoming overconfident in their status as compared to you, corrections in your interactions with your subordinates can be made. Should the risks at hand come to fruition, you can always work your way down to becoming stern in your definition of roles.


The Effect on Those Who Look On From the Sidelines

The (hopefully) positive effect your lack of explicit labels will have on your subordinates will likely work its way to those who watch. By not being clear in what exact relationship you’re in with those who work for you, others will tend to perceive your subordinates to be of higher status than they actually are.

For instance, if you hired a gardener and your neighbor inquires into who it is that’s working on your lawn, you can say, “That’s Jacob, he’s helping me plant a little hedge this weekend.”

To your neighbor’s interpretation, Jacob’s role can be anything; from a student you paid $20 to help you out, to someone who has their own landscaping business. The assumptions your neighbor makes can all work out in a positive way for you.

For instance, if your neighbor assumes Jacob is simply a student being paid minimum wage, then they’ll judge the quality of his work within the context of paying little for it. If Jacob does a good job, your neighbor would perceive you to have gotten a good deal.

If however, your neighbor perceives Jacob to own his own landscaping company, then he’d perceive you to be spending a healthy sum of cash on keeping your garden up to par. You’d be viewed as having a healthy amount of disposable income, and would be perceived to take your garden’s aesthetic seriously.

Being unwilling to label your subordinates explicitly as such, can thereby open up the gates of perception in those who watch from the sidelines. Rather than pridefully letting them know that someone you hired is your explicit subordinate – or that someone who helps you is your helper – you’d do well to let others establish that definition. More often than not, people seem to play up the relationships you have with your subordinates if you make them seem like partners rather than mere employees.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.