Q: The mother of one of my employees recently called my boss to complain that her daughter, "Angie," was being overworked. Angie was upset because some required training made it hard for her to complete her regular duties. I quickly solved the problem by changing her training schedule.
However, I was completely shocked that Angie didn't talk to me directly and that her mother felt a need to contact my manager. With Angie's permission, I called her mother, who said she was just worried about her daughter's health.
Apparently, the suggestion to call my boss came from our receptionist, who is a friend of Angie's mother. I don't understand why the receptionist never told me about this because we have always had a great relationship.
The fact that all these people have been talking behind my back has me very upset. What should I do?
A: Take a deep breath, calm down, and recognize that this is not some sort of subversive plot. You have simply gotten caught up in a convoluted communication chain. Focus on the future and take steps to prevent a recurrence.
Regrettably, Angie's mother appears to be a "helicopter parent" who doesn't understand that anyone old enough to have finished high school is also old enough to handle her own work issues. To help Angie break the habit of making Mom her mouthpiece, gently explain what she needs to do.
For example: "Angie, I'm glad we were able to resolve your concerns about the training schedule. I hope that in the future you'll come to me directly if you are worried about anything. As your supervisor, my goal is to help you be successful, so we need to discuss any problems you may have."
As for the receptionist, cut her a little slack. She may have inadvertently stepped on your toes while trying to help a friend.
Address soup offender directly
Q: My co-worker eats soup in his cubicle three times a day, even though office policy prohibits eating at your desk. This soup has a strong, unpleasant odor, and he repeatedly clanks his bowl.
Our manager has sent everyone reminder e-mails about the policy, but this guy is still eating his soup. How do we get him to stop?
A: General admonitions are almost always ignored by the offenders. To enforce the policy, your manager must stop hiding behind "reminder e-mails" and tell this soup-slurping employee to take his bowl to the break room.
Difficult boss is well-connected
Q: My boss, "Jerry," keeps trying to reduce his workload by giving me assignments that he should do himself. He also fails to follow up on important issues, which often leads to a crisis. When this happens, Jerry tends to fabricate facts and blame others, including me.
I have never complained about Jerry's management style, but I suspect he knows how I feel about him. On my last performance review, he rated me "satisfactory" in areas where I had previously been "outstanding". Since then, I've been keeping meticulous records to protect myself.
After 17 years with this company, I have no intention of leaving. I'm sure Jerry's incompetence will catch up with him eventually, but until that happens, how can I preserve my career? Talking to upper management is not an option, because Jerry is good friends with the executives.
A: Having a difficult boss who is well-connected creates a challenge. Since there is little hope of changing Jerry and apparently no avenue of appeal, your only remaining choice is to start "managing up" in a politically intelligent manner.
Assuming that your job performance hasn't deteriorated, the declining appraisal rating is a clear sign Jerry is not happy with you. He may be a self-protecting slacker, but he can still affect your career and reputation, so you need to repair this relationship.
First, you must simply accept that you are stuck with a bad boss. Stop expecting him to be any better than he is; you may feel less irritated.
You still need to show respect for his position. Since you say Jerry is aware of your feelings, you must have conveyed contempt. Try to be consistently pleasant, cooperative and helpful. This may actually improve your performance rating.
Finally, to increase your own leverage, develop allies. Having higher-level managers in your network is especially useful. The more people who know and admire you, the safer your job will be.