My Director Says I Am Only A Worker Bee

A Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to respond to a boss to says I will be terminated if:

My director had a telephone discussion with me, in which she mentioned behaviors that she determined as insubordinate. She mentioned one instance where I hung up on her. Which I readily admitted to and apologized. She further mentioned other behaviors that she stated was told to her by other co-workers.

I am very well liked within my organization and constantly complimented on my work. My director often submits my work as her own ideas. In our discussion she mentioned that I had spoken to others about processes that I don’t agree with and stated I was “complaining”. I tried to explain that I was discussing other ideas before presenting them to management and not complaining, I was brainstorming.

Bottom line, she then sent me an email stating what we “discussed”. She left much of what was stated out of the email, but added 3 points about behavior that she cautioned if they happened again, I would be immediately terminated. Two of the incidents happened years ago and had already been discussed and dropped and only one was recent. She made it appear that the issues were ongoing and recent.

She also copied the HR director. My question – should I submit a rebuttal stating what I am not in agreement with? I don’t want this in my personnel file. I believe she is concerned that others may notice that most of the work she takes credit for is mine. She has stated that “she is the director and I am the worker bee”– that I should not question processes and just do the work I’m instructed to do. I suspect she is concerned that others may realize that she really isn’t the person she portrays. So should I rebutt or just let it be? Thank you for any insight.

Signed–More Than a Worker Bee

Dear More Than a Worker Bee

Apparently your director is frustrated and so are you. She has marked a line that if crossed, will result in you being fired. Obviously you would like her termination ultimatum disappear. It will not. She copied Human Resources her letter to you. It is in their files. Can you dispute what your director said? Yes. Before you hastily do, would it not be wise to reflect on the unhappy give and take between you and your director? Because you declare “I am very well liked within my organization and constantly complimented on my work”, I suggest it would be wise to take time out to review and weigh what would be best for you to do.  With this in mind, I will suggest some things for your consideration and options for action or no action.

  • Your director believes in boss-bossed authority. In her mind, she is boss and you are expected to do what she says. This is not uncommon. This pattern of organizational authority is almost universal  and it is the way bosses have operated for eons. More rather than less power-distance between boss and bossed, this pattern probably will continue so long as we work and live. Some bosses and organizations have learned that consultation and coaching is more effective than giving orders and prescribing subordinate’s behavior. This is more the case in egalitarian cultures.

  • You now know what your director considers insubordination and other unacceptable behavior.

  • Your director doesn’t know all of what you think. She has learned that you understand hanging up on her is unacceptable because you apologized. She doesn’t know you think her inclusion of long past behavior of what was discussed is unfair. She doesn’t know you think she takes credit for your work and are upset about that–that you hold that against her and that you think she “is concerned that others may realize that she really isn’t the person she portrays.” This is to suggest each of you assume what is unspoken. One and perhaps both of you are saying to yourselves  I think she thinks. What the other really thinks is somewhat foreign to the other.

  • You must weigh the pros and cons of what you choose to do in light of several important factors, such as will open disclosure of what you think adversely affect your current boss-bossed relationship, can you afford to be out of work if fired, and how important is working in this job to your career.

With these general considerations in mind, let’s reflect on several options possible; some that overlap and others that are contrary:

  1. Adjust your behavior in light of your director’s assessment. Perhaps a willing compliance and good performance will earn her goodwill over time. This option doesn’t mean you must eat crow or jump no matter what she says. You can be a responsible, civil and cheerful worker and let the past be past. If you choose this option, I recommend you log specific incidents in the work day that make you feel good. It’s a habit that changes criticism to finding constructive behavior–things you accomplish and things others do with you, for each other and for your workplace.

  2. Request a one-on-one meeting with her. You’ll have to decide how open you want to be about your thinking. At one extreme, candidly admit you are uneasy about her shape up and if you are judged to fail any of three behaviors she listed, you are shipped out. If you elect the speak up and be open, you will disclose your feeling that she is unfair in her recall of long past errors and also that you feel she takes credit she has not earned. A less assertive approach would be to stay mum about what she has criticized about you and in place of that you ask for career direction advice. This non-assertive approach could evolve into earning her interest in helping you achieve a better working relationship now and/or provide guidance for your future.

  3. Prepare a rebuttal to her letter of reprimand. Deal specifically with what you think is mistaken and misunderstood. Request that this be included in her file and copy H.R. This option is not one I recommend, unless you feel she has made serious misstatement of your behavior.

  4. Request that H.R. investigate working relationships within your work group. How your boss bosses and how your coworkers evaluate her as a director. This is a fight-fight option. It is not one I recommend in your situation.

  5. Formally or informally suggest that your workgroup put the matter of improving quality on you staff agenda. Such a topic might best be proposed by someone other than you, but it is a topic about which you are concerned as you mention “I was discussing other ideas before presenting them to management and not complaining, I was brainstorming.” This kind of topic might include how to communicate more effectively, or how might we cut waste–wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, wasted money, or what might we do to better please our internal/external customers, and/or how can we make our work area more attractive and pleasant. When a work group focuses on improving quality good things can happen.

So do these considerations and any of these options make sense to you? Or do they prompt you to think of others. I welcome your critique and an update on what you elect to do. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden