My Boss Is Never Satisfied

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss who demeans: He raises his voice in public and in person and he cannot take anything different from me than what he thinks.

I am the head of a Human Resources Department, working as a General Manager. I have been in HR for almost three years now, before which I was in sales in the same organization. I was moved into HR by the senior most person in my organization because it was an interest of mine. I did quite well and have a good relationship with my supervisors and my stakeholders.

As a result, within two years of being moved to HR from sales, I was promoted to General Manager. Recently there has been a change in the organization and I now report to a new person. He simply does not accept me as an HR professional because my background was in sales. I have tried hard and sometimes have been successful in impressing upon him my achievements in HR. However, he gives negative vibes to me by not accepting my views and by raising his voice if I have a difference of opinion with him.. He raises his voice in public and in person and he cannot take anything different from me than what he thinks.

He demeans me in front of my stakeholders, my subordinates and peers. I think he is jealous that I get along well with my stakeholders, but he says I don’t push back with them enough and I get swayed by their thoughts. He cut down my increment percentage (a raise I should have received) and he has given me bad ratings.

I have continued with him for one and a half years now, but the situation is worsening each day. In the past when I tried raising the concern politely to him, he started shouting at me again and said I am not doing anything and not bringing any additional value to the table. I feel he may harm me in future in terms of my ratings and my job. What should I do to deal with this and protect myself?

Here are the options I have thought about:

1. Should I raise this to his boss who is the head of the department? He may not be aware of the situation

2. Should I keep quiet and keep handling him diplomatically until I get a job outside or an opportunity to change my department to a different unit within HR?

3. Should I take some other senior person in confidence and let this pass on to the management?

4. I could also keep working strongly with my stakeholders so that they may stand by me if needed.

5. I could probably report this to the CEO of the company and request him to change my department, as I share a good rapport with him. What should I do?

Signed, Frustrated and Worried

Dear Frustrated and Worried:

Congratulations on thinking through the problem and developing options! That certainly shows that you are doing more than being concerned; you are sincerely looking for solutions. Before you decide what specific things to do, you will need to decide which of the two basic paths you want to take: Are you determined to stay in your current position because you will be harmed financially or in status if you leave? Or, would you not mind leaving, but aren’t sure if you want to do that yet.

Your suggested options imply you could do either of those things. So, here are some things to think about, before you get to your larger list of options: If you have lost interest in your work through all of this and can find someplace in the company in which you could happy and get paid about the same and keep a similar title, there are some obvious benefits to simply moving on as soon as you can do it. The main one is that it sounds as though your manager is not a very likeable person and he certainly does not know how to motivate people. It may be that nothing you do will ever make him happy with you.

If you think you will never be able to change his mind or never be able to keep yourself safe from his complaints, you may be better off trying to move your job. There is no point in being miserable one more day than necessary if you can find someplace else you will like as well. Perhaps your new director resents that you were placed in that position for reasons other than skill and knowledge. Or, maybe he genuinely believes you do not do work to the level he thinks is appropriate, or he thinks you are working in a way he doesn’t like (that you are easily influenced by internal clients and give in to their requests too often.)

Maybe it isn’t worth the effort to spend all your time just trying to get along and risking that he could make you look bad in the company. The other reason you might want to move on is just to do something different within the department or the business. So, even if you were getting along with the boss you might decide to leave. However, you would have to get something that would allow you to keep your work title or at least your status and pay grade within the company.

Your second choice depends upon if you very much want to stay in your current work and can find nothing else you prefer to do or that would be equal in the business. If leaving would lower your pay and lower your status in such a way that it would hurt your career, you will need to hang on and find a way to deal with your director/boss. He replaced someone else, so maybe he will be replaced soon as well. Or, maybe he will retire. Think about how long he is likely to be there and if you can outlast him.

I think you are working outside the United States, and you know your work and work culture best, so my suggestions may or may not fit your needs. But, perhaps they will give you ideas for what you can do.

1. First, self-evaluate to see if there are complaints made by your boss that you could respond to without much difficulty. If he has asked you to not do something or to not give into the demands of internal clients or whatever, perhaps his anger is because you are not complying with his directions. If he wants you to produce a particular type or level of work and it is possible to do so, perhaps he is angry because you are not coming through in the way the thinks you should. If there is something specific he wants from you and you can do it, your most obvious action should be to do it.I noticed that your options for action did not include anything related to making changes about your own work. It may be that you have done that already, but it sounded as though you mostly had focused on trying to show the boss that you are doing impressive work on your own. What he may want instead is for you to do specific work he has asked you to do.You do not mention those who report to you in your role as general manager. Your main job is to work with and through them to achieve the goals of your organization. Could it be they are unhappy with you and are talking to your director? Could it be your director is angry over some aspect of how you are using employees who are your responsibility? Make sure you are dealing with those you supervise much, much better than your boss is dealing with you.If you can show that you have a generally happy team of employees, work is being done on time and done well, there are no significant complaints about your department or you and your team, and your manager has no valid complaints, then you can know that nothing would please him. But, if there are things he wants that you’re not doing, maybe you should try to do those things and impress him with your willingness to work with him not against him.

2. If it is possible to talk to your former boss, consider doing that. You apparently got along with him or her. Ask that person for some honest feedback about your work, now that he or she is gone. That can accomplish two things: First, it can gain you some truthful critique of your work and second, you may get advice that will help you. If your former boss has moved to another section, maybe a higher position, it doesn’t hurt to stay in contact anyway. But, approach it with a sincere interest in working on your own work, not just complaining about the new boss. (Although it wouldn’t hurt to ask for tips in how to best deal with him.)

3. After you have decided you have done all you can to fulfill the expectations of your boss and in spite of that, your boss isn’t happy with your work and you feel you can’t deal with it, then you can look to your other options. If you’ve already done the first two things, you may be ready for this stage right away.

4. First, if you were moved from a sales job to an HR job then soon after were made the General Manager, someone was impressed with you and your work. Talk to that person and let him or her know that you are still the same person they promoted, but you’re frustrated and concerned about what is happening. You might ask if they have insights about how you’re doing your work or how you could better deal with this situation. The person who helped you succeed probably wants you to continue to be successful. He or she also might resent someone implying that the decision to promote you was wrong. Again, keep your approach as one of wanting to do well rather than only wanting to complain; although you may want to mention the yelling incidents as a way to show what you’re dealing with.

5. If your company culture would not condone yelling at an employee or talking in a demeaning way, that will be your best example about how intolerable working conditions are. The next time that happens or, if it has happened recently, consider going to the person over your boss to make a complaint and ask for assistance. That will be a big step, so you will want to make sure it is something you are allowed to do or that you could do without fear of worse actions. Or, you could just talk to that person about the big picture of what has been happening. He or she is the most direct one who could stop the behavior. But, of course, your name would have to be used as that might create bigger problems. It is a risk, but might help you if that person is a good manager. You say he may not be aware of the situation and maybe he would like to know about it.

6. As a last resort, you could talk to the CEO of your company. The problem is that he has so many other issues to deal with that he may not see this as a serious concern. But, if he is trying to build a better work culture this might bother him a lot. You say you know him and have a good relationship with him, so a lot would depend upon how much support you think you will get.The other options you suggest all could be worthwhile in some way, according to how things develop. But, it seems to me that you need to start with these solid approaches and try to get something to change right away.I hope these thought will inspire some thinking on your part and that you will be able to have a better work situation soon. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe