Merge's Blog

Address problem behaviours directly – don’t whitewash

When it comes to communicating with your employees, don’t whitewash! Let me explain.

Sometimes, when a supervisor or team leader wants to convey a negative message, there is a tendency to address the message to the large group rather than specifically towards the person is intended for.  Let me give you a quick example that I have observed with many managers.  Let’s say there is one employee in the department who is frequently coming in late to work.  Rather than address the issue specifically with the tardy employee, the supervisor instead sends out an e-mail to the entire department reminding everybody of the work hours for the department and the importance on being on time.  This is called whitewash.  Instead of dealing with a specific issue, the supervisor has instead broadcast a blanket message to everybody, in the hope that the one person who really needs to hear it, will.  And of course that just won’t happen!  The one person who really needs to hear the message won’t.  The one person who really needs the message will think it applies to everybody else.  And everyone else, who has been coming in to work on time, is tarred with the same dirty brush because a blanket message was delivered to all.  Don’t whitewash!  If you have to deal with a problem behavior, then address it specifically to the person who is at fault.

Not only is whitewash completely ineffective in halting the problem, but it is also disrespectful to your other employees.  What do you think?


  • Hello Merge, I worked in a long term care facility for seniors; a private run home. The whole family (12 or so) worked there also. So of course all 12 family members were your boss and could tell you where to go and what to do anytime. Which they did. Its true what you said about people leave their managers, not their job (or company) After 11 years, I finally had to leave. I loved my job, but could not put up with all the abuse from my supervisors.
    As well, the above situation where one person comes in late and a general memo is sent to everyone. That is excatly how this company operated. I am amazed they have managed to stay in business so long. The turnover is tremendous.
    Thanks Merge for your great work. I love reading your articles. We met last year in Newfoundland, at a NLOWE women’s convention. Remember Dona inadvertently got your purse onto her shoulder? lol. We still laugh about that. Thanks, Jinette

  • Hello Jinette and thanks for your feedback. Yes, of course I remember you at the NLOWE Convention … and yes, I haven’t forgotten Dona’s purse either :).

    With respect to your comments, isn’t it amazing and disappointing how many managers and supervisors just DON’T GET IT?! If we don’t take the time and invest the effort to become better leaders, we pay for it (in real money) through increased turnover. But because turnover is not a blatant, in-your-face cost, so many people find it easier to ignore than to take action to fix it.


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