Watch out for these 15 phrases managers use to control their employees

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Navigating the corporate world can feel like walking through a minefield of coded language. 

But it’s important for you to be aware of phrases that signify an unhealthy working environment – if not, your professional development could suffer as a result! 

So, in this article, I’ll be listing 15 phrases managers use to control their employees, and what to do if faced with this toxic work situation! 

1) “I don’t pay you to think.” 

This is probably one of the most insulting lines you can hear when you’ve just pitched a brilliant, innovative idea!

Managers will use this to shut you down when they feel threatened by your contribution…

They’re essentially saying, “Do your work within the confines of my procedures, and don’t think outside of the box.”

And that leads to the next phrase to watch out for:

2) “We’ve always done it this way.”

Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s effective or efficient! 

If you’re new to a company, you might find that your manager has an outdated way of working…your suggestions to improve practices are rejected, even though they’re probably valid and useful! 

If your manager uses this line, it’s a clear attempt to keep control, but it also shows their resistance to change. 

3) “Your personal life should not interfere with your work.”

Look – the vast majority of us know to leave our personal business at the door when we get to the office, but inevitably, certain life events may affect our work more than others! 

I remember a colleague at the call center I worked at during university, a relative of hers passed away and even though she’d taken compassionate leave, she still wasn’t herself when she returned to work.

Our manager used a similar line, displaying ZERO empathy or compassion. She got on with the job but there’s no doubt she felt unsupported. 

There’s no other word for it, except cruel. 

4) “Never mind, I’ll do it.”

Have you ever mentioned to your manager that you’re struggling with a task? Or perhaps you’ve been given feedback that your work isn’t up to standard?

Good managers will support you as you develop and get better at your job.

Controlling managers, on the other hand, will hit you with this line. It’s to make you feel inadequate and it does nothing for your confidence levels. 

Not to mention, it highlights your manager’s impatience! 

5) “Do it now. I don’t care how.”

By telling you, the employee, that they don’t care how you get a job done, a manager is effectively saying, “Forget ethics and professionalism, get me the results I want right now.” 

But this can cause a major ethical issue for you…what happens if the job isn’t simple, or you’ll need to break procedure? 

This is just another form of control – the manager isn’t creating a supportive, honest environment to work in. They’re only interested in results, not how you got there. 

6) “This may be beyond your pay grade.”

Ah yes, another line used to shut you down! 

Limiting you to only your contracted responsibilities is another way managers will stop you from questioning decisions or taking on more responsibility. 

They want to keep you in a box with no room for growth or opportunity to show your potential! 

7) “You should be able to handle this on your own.”

I mentioned earlier how a good manager will support you as you develop and improve at your job…

A controlling manager will use this line to guilt and pressure you to get the job done, even if it’s a skill you’re still learning.

Put it this way, if your manager uses this line, what they’re really doing is avoiding taking responsibility…

Not to mention, they’re ensuring you think twice before asking them for help in the future, creating an unfriendly work environment in my opinion!

8) “Failure is not an option.”

Hang on a minute…I thought we’ve all learned by now that failure is just a part of life, and can even be helpful in the sense of building resilience and learning from mistakes!

So, if your manager pulls this line out, you know they’ve got an unhealthy attitude toward success. 

But even scarier – they are applying this unnecessary pressure onto you! 

9) “I don’t want to hear any excuses.”

And when failure does happen, you might be hit with this next phrase. 

The truth is though, these “excuses” are actually reasons that are valid and crucial to getting a job done well. 

And if the task failed, knowing why it went wrong means you can avoid the same mistake being repeated in the future! 

If anything, this line indicates a manager who values blind obedience over open and honest communication. 

10) “Remember who signs your paychecks.”

Let’s say you’re a writer who’s been asked to produce an article on a controversial topic. You raise your concerns, but your manager retorts with this line…

In a sense, it’s emotionally pressuring you to do what they want. 

But on a more serious scale, it’s used to remind you of your dependability on this job. 

In other words, it’s a “Do what I say, or else.”

11) “You’re lucky to have this job.”

And following on from the previous point…

If your manager reminds you how lucky you are to have your job position, it’s a major red flag of control.

This shows a lack of appreciation towards you (like they’re doing you a favor and therefore you should do exactly as they say). 

But that’s not all…

It’s also an effective way to instill fear and uncertainty! Especially in a fragile job market where people have a genuine fear of being unemployed. 

12) “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

It’s a popular line, but what I want to know is why reinventing the wheel is a bad thing, especially if the current wheel doesn’t keep up with the times! 

Unfortunately, though, managers will use this to discourage innovation. 

Especially if they prefer a traditional approach to doing things – you coming along with interesting, creative ideas could make them feel threatened.

13) “I expect you to be on call.”

This is another phrase to look out for because it indicates a violation of your boundaries

Let’s say you’ve told your manager that you don’t wish to be contacted in the evenings because, technically, that’s outside of your contracted hours. 

But then you’re told they expect you to be on call for an emergency. I can’t help but wonder: 

Why is your manager not ensuring someone else is contracted for those hours? 

Why are they “expecting” something from you rather than politely asking if you’re able to do it?

This is just another example of how workplace control (and toxicity) takes place! 

14) “You don’t need to understand why. Just do it.”

Look, if you ever hear this line, know that you absolutely DO need to understand why you’re doing the job you do. 

No matter how small or trivial it might seem, knowing the “why” is important because it gives you motivation and understanding. 

Without the “why” you’re simply completing tasks like a robot. But a manager who can’t be bothered (or doesn’t know how) to explain will often use this line to put you back in your place. 

They clearly don’t value curiosity or open communication! 

15) “If you can’t handle it, there are plenty who can.”

And finally, we’re ending with the mother of all threats…

This phrase is used to scare you into doing whatever your manager wants, and if you don’t?

Well, they’re making the consequences clear! 

So, if you’ve faced any of these lines at work, it’s clear your manager isn’t fostering a healthy working environment. But what can you do about it? 

Read on to find out…

How to deal with a manager who controls their employees 

I get it, your manager is someone you’re probably keen to avoid crossing paths with, especially if they use the phrases mentioned above! 

But with that being said, it’s up to us employees to hold management accountable and rally for better working environments. 

That’s why I suggest doing the following: 

  • Open communication – your manager might suck at it, but there’s no reason you have to stoop to their level. Be honest if your manager uses a hurtful, controlling phrase, and in a non-confrontational way, let them know how you feel. 
  • Seek clarification – sometimes people don’t know the impact of their words. If your manager says, “Failure isn’t an option.”, you could respond with something like, “I understand the importance of completing this task, but it would be helpful to discuss the potential roadblocks beforehand.”. 
  • Set boundaries – especially if your manager is encroaching on your personal time. Be firm and clear about what you’re willing to do (and what is outside of your scope of work). 
  • Document everything – if you feel your manager is constantly overstepping the professional line, keep a record of it, you might need it in the future…
  • Get HR involved – this is where a record will come in handy, as well as the testimony of other colleagues (only if they’re willing to get involved though). 

Ultimately, if your manager doesn’t change their ways, it might be time to consider looking for another job. This, unfortunately, happens too often…

A great job + crappy management = high turnover rate. 

But it’s important to put your health and well-being first, and of course, be part of a team that appreciates and values you! 

Kiran Athar

Kiran is a freelance writer with a degree in multimedia journalism. She enjoys exploring spirituality, psychology, and love in her writing. As she continues blazing ahead on her journey of self-discovery, she hopes to help her readers do the same. She thrives on building a sense of community and bridging the gaps between people. You can reach out to Kiran on Twitter: @KiranAthar1

If you have these 11 personality traits, you’re destined for success

If someone uses these 10 phrases, they’re not showing you any respect