What To Do When I Am Shut Down and Shut Out?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to handle
times of disagreement with the boss or when one is prevented from
learning and presenting ideas. 

Question:
I read a response to a question on this site about co-workers teaming up against another employee. I interpreted the response as saying that sometimes when people go up the corporate ladder it invokes jealousy. Or, sometimes people don’t fit into the office team culture. You suggested frequency of meetings that include all team members, to encourage participation and problem solving.

In my previous job, I participated in weekly meetings as a contract-to-hire employee. I offered many ideas and had my share of increasing department productivity. Understandably, even with all the efforts made, the workplace still faced issues as serious as bankruptcy and buy-out by a bigger company.

During this time I kept my responsibilities and attempted to offer solutions to remaining productivity issues. The supervisor received a promotion during this time and was on a short leave. Upon return, she noted my job performance and would not approve any of my solutions or ideas. I presented solutions during team meetings but the other employees would only go with the supervisor’s opinion. Often my work was given to another contractor.

I did not give up, I stayed ahead of deadlines and gave room for improvement. When I asked about participating in a work place training, the next day I received a call from HR saying I was terminated from the position.

My question is, if I stayed open and avoided annoying anyone with my displeasure at rejection as much as possible, was my presentation and attempt at problem solving just not good enough? What should I expect in my next job when I am in disagreement with someone more experienced, or who prevents me from learning and finding solutions in my job?

Response

You know your former situation best, so you may need to adapt a large portion of my suggestions. However, perhaps they will inspire some thinking about how you want to approach your next job–which I hope will be soon.

1.I often refer to the three things that are required to have influence:
(1.) Credibility (Effective at the work for which you are hired, personal behaviors and presentation that fit the culture of the workplace, ethical in the areas of priority for the organization.)
(2.) Value (Needed by the team and by individuals to fulfill a role or do a task; contributing to the team or to individuals in some way; being liked, appreciated or admired and thus being considered a good person to have around.)
(3.)Communication that is appropriate and effective. (Appropriate for the rank, position and listener and effectively enough to be clear, without distracting mannerisms or style.)

If any of those things are lacking, it may be difficult or impossible to gain support for ideas or to viewed as someone who the company should spend time and money developing. Those are challenging elements, but many people achieve them. Even if one is not planning on moving up a promotional ladder or there are no opportunities for it in the company, an employee can develop-in-place if they have influence with coworkers and bosses.

I mention that concept of influence because your final question is only about what to do in your next job if you have similar interactions with your supervisor and are blocked in your ability to develop and contribute. However, the explanation about events leading up to your termination indicate your work product was viewed as needing improvement. (You said “she noted my job performance and would not approve any of my solutions or ideas” and “Often my work was given to another contractor.”)

It could be that those perceived work problems made you lack credibility and value. From your supervisor’s perspective (and apparently from someone above her, since a supervisor rarely has the authority to terminate) your work was lacking in some way. All of your various ideas and suggestions didn’t have much weight, if your own work was not at the desired level.

Quite often employees are enthusiastic about thinking of new ways to do things, ways to improve the organization, how to change this or that for the better, but they are not so enthusiastic about staying in their work area and learning to do their work better. A good rule is this: Any time there is the slightest hint that your work product or your behavior is not considered acceptable, put your focus on self-improvement and self-change. After that is considered exemplary, you can once again contribute ideas for the rest of the organization.

The frequently heard advice, “Stay in your own lane” (to mean, take care of your own business before you start trying to take care of someone else’s) is very appropriate in those situations.

2.You do not mention conversations with your supervisor that might have cleared some of this up, although you may have had those. In your next job, talk with your supervisor occasionally, without being excessive, about your work and how you could improve it or adjust it or what should you keep doing exactly the same way.

Often when there are signs of a conflict between a supervisor and an employee, neither one feels comfortable talking to the other and very quickly a wall builds up between them. Do your best to not let that happen. Continue with the usual greetings, pleasantries, smiles and courteous interactions. Let the supervisor be able to think of you as someone he or she can feel comfortable communicating with. (Of course, it also works in reverse, but you don’t have control over that.)

3.According to the nature of your contract, perhaps your suggestions were viewed as not appropriate for a contract employee to make (unless you were hired to make changes and suggestions.) I am familiar with an office where the manager said of a contract employee: “We hired her to do graphic design during a period when we needed lot of it done, but we didn’t hire her to chime in with ideas for everything else the company is doing.”

Perhaps the company could have benefited from the graphic-designer’s perspective and perhaps the manager was being cold and harsh. But, the view of everyone was that the contract employee should stick with her contractual work and do it well, but not assume the role of a career employee. In that situation, the contract employee was also not effective in her interactions, which was the bulk of the problem. She started many comments with, “The most up-to-date thinking is…..” It irritated everyone and she lost her credibility and value.

In your next job, if you are contractual, be clear up front about your role in innovation within the company and how much status your role will have at the table when ideas are being discussed.

4.You mentioned another contract employee and there may have been several of them. When an individual feels that he or she is having problems, while others in almost the exact same role are not, it can be helpful to consider what is different, as far as communication style, skills and abilities, and other issues relevant to the work. (Sometimes the differences are not relevant to the work and there can be indications of bias or inappropriate favoritism.).

Did other contract employees seem to have more influence? Consider their credibility, value and communication effectiveness, because that is usually where the differences will be apparent.

5.Even though these suggestions have centered around your contractual status, they apply to any type of work. A pragmatic approach is that all a supervisor or manager wants when they hire an employee is someone who will do the job they are hired for, very, very well.

If the job is not a supervisory, managerial or executive job, the main requirement is to do the required work in an excellent way. Work-improvement ideas are welcome, if they primarily have to do with how the employee can improve their own work effectiveness or if they have easy to implement ideas for saving money or increasing efficiency. Even if the job, by its nature, involves whole-organization systems (IT, budget, legal, marketing, etc.) the priority is on daily work. Staff meetings may encourage ideas and suggestions, but there is no obligation for the supervisor or manager to accept them.

There are many books on empowerment and workplace engagement and most supervisors and managers would say they agree with those books. But, the reality is that days are going fast, work has to get done and supervisors and managers trust their own ideas more than the ideas of others. Often they are justified in that belief, based on their experience. The development of employees is done in very small increments and is not the main priority. Even the development of the organization is not a main priority, when simply getting through the current project is pressuring everyone.

Almost everyone is more satisfied with work when they know what it involves, what they can and can’t do, if there is a career path to something else and if so, how to start and continue down that path. Employees who are behaving and performing in ways that meet and exceed the standards and are occasionally recognized for their good work, have much less mental upset and feel much better about work in general, even if they don’t like their bosses very well.

6.Your next work may be a much better fit for you and none of the issues you dealt with your last job will be present. I hope that is the case. There is obviously a need to get another job quickly, but optimally that job will be one where you understand your requirements, limitations and opportunities up front and where you can find fulfillment in your work.

Best wishes to you in the future!
Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors