Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, SEP 2, 2004
She wants me to leave under my own power — in a nice, quiet way.
I’ve been working at a high-tech company for about five years. My previous boss adored me, gave me good raises and promised me a promotion. Unfortunately, she got fired three years ago and was replaced by another woman. (BTW, I am female as well.) Anyway, the new boss is youngish (she’s in her young 30s, I’m in my young 40s) and felt she needed to take the bull by the horns by giving everybody hell.
There is no question she is smart, organized and driven, but she expects way too much from her employees. There has been high turnover in her group since her tenure, but management doesn’t seem to notice because she manages “up” if you know what I mean. My first review from her was scathing, but the subsequent two were fine. I’ve been working on a major software project this year that required a lot of travel and a great deal of time and effort. I thought everything was going fine, but lo and behold she tells me that my “management” skills aren’t up to snuff and wants me to leave the department. She said she’ll get me another job in the company, but doesn’t want me in her group. No paperwork, no human resources, no anything — she just wants me to leave.
Here’s my beef: I had no warning about this at all. I appreciate that she doesn’t want to involve H.R. because they are typically on the side of the company. I admit culpability and that some things slipped through the cracks. But she is the type of manager that if you do 10 things right and one thing wrong, the one wrong thing wrong will be noticed. In other words, she is a micro-manager.
Your advice? Should I just smile and find another position in the company, or investigate this further? I’ve worked hard and don’t feel I deserve this. To make a Machiavellian reference, maybe I didn’t kowtow to the prince. There has never been any chemistry between us, and I never tried to brown-nose her.
Getting Screwed by a Boss From Hell
Dear Getting Screwed,
You are probably correct that the problem lies in your relationship with your boss — or, more precisely, in your boss’s attitude toward you. Had you “managed up” as you say, in that relationship, perhaps she would regard you differently. But I don’t think you can fix that relationship now. She’s apparently made up her mind. She wants you gone.
The manner of your going, however, is still up for discussion. So I’m not sure I agree that it’s best to keep H.R. out of it “because they are typically on the side of the company.” The very fact that your boss does not want H.R. involved indicates to me that perhaps they should be involved.
I can think of several reasons your boss might not want H.R. involved. Perhaps she knows that you have a good performance record and she can’t make any kind of business case for moving you. Has she said anything about how her plan to get rid of you would help the company? Probably not. Perhaps what she is proposing goes against company policy — after all, H.R. is there for a reason. Also, H.R. may have noted the high turnover in her department and she may be afraid of bringing further attention to the problem. Perhaps H.R. cannot be “managed up” as easily as the other subpar midlevel managers she’s got wrapped around her little finger.
Meanwhile, she is trying to enlist you as an ally in your own undoing: You and me, honey, we don’t need H.R., we can settle this between us. She may be pretending to be on your side and against “the company,” but remember: She is the company. She is management. So don’t fall for that line.
Instead, why not go to H.R. confidentially. Explore your options. Get some counseling. You don’t necessarily have to tell them all the details. Just say that you’re looking into, you know, career development. You may have rights in this matter that you’re not aware of. Consider it from H.R.’s position. One of the things they try to do is avoid lawsuits from disgruntled employees. And while many in companies view the H.R. department as something like the principal’s office, there are always a few individuals who went into the field of human resources because they wanted to help people flourish and succeed. Of course, others go into it because they like to fire people and make them fill out forms. So you never know. But it’s worth looking into. At the very least, it will show your boss that you can’t be cowed or secretly manipulated.
It could backfire, of course. She could make things worse for you. But I don’t think she would fire you — if there were grounds for firing, she would have done it already.
I look at it like this: A personality conflict in a work situation is not the end of the world, and it does not have to be some ugly secret. It’s a fact of life. It happens all the time. Not everybody gets along. Not everybody likes everybody else. The right thing to do, I think, is to acknowledge it and deal with it in an aboveboard manner.