Boss Ignores Me In Favor Of A New Employee

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling excluded by boss:

I am a recent college graduate and have begun a new job in PR. I loved my job at first. My boss and me worked very well together. We would take breaks and talk all the time, he took the time to really mentor me on the material, and had tasks planned out for me to accomplish.One month into the job, he hired a new employee. This employee is three years older than I am (he is 24) and has worked in the PR industry since college. Being hired at a higher position, he naturally knew more information about the space than I. But, I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be completely ignored by my boss. My boss now only talks about sports and guy stuff with the new employee and both curse constantly.

In addition, both guys sit at work tossing a football back and forth, over my head, while I am trying to work (I’m stuck in a middle cubicle). My boss also no longer has any real projects for me to work on. Instead, he keeps assigning me busy work, such as research projects that are essentially random goose chases and are only reviewed for about five seconds.

The worst part of it all is, the new employee seems to show two distinctly different personalities around my boss and myself. And, sadly, my boss is insistent that everyone in the office be best friends with each other; my boss wants to create a fun office atmosphere (hence the current game room which is set up right in front of my desk). If my boss is around, the new employee acknowledges me. However, as soon as the boss leaves, the new employee never really responds to my questions or attempts to make conversation with me. In fact, he rarely even turns around to acknowledge me speaking to him.The most frustrating part of the whole situation is that my boss loves him. But, when my boss is not around, the new employee talks about how unorganized my boss is, how he disagrees with some of my boss’s work ideas, and how bored he is at work.

Therefore, I do not trust the new employee, and my in-office behavior has changed as a result.I no longer talk very much and tend to keep to myself. I have become resentful of being ignored, having no work to do, and being forced to be bff with the new employee. Should I quit my job; should I be bringing all these problems up with my boss? How do I make this work environment better?

Signed, Feeling Left Out

Dear Feeling Left Out:

I can imagine the frustration and disappointment you’re feeling, to go from friend, protégé and happy new employee to someone who feels left out and replaced; by someone not very impressive at that! However, there are several things to consider about this that will perhaps help you to regain your balance and move forward.1. Your boss sounds as though he likes being popular, beyond just being liked as a boss. It also sounds as though he enjoyed being your mentor for awhile and now he likes feeling like a jock as he interacts with a younger version of himself (or what he would have liked to have been.)

My first thought as I read your letter was that your situation involves several elements, but the key one is a boss who uses poor judgment. At first you benefited from it and now you are suffering from it, but either way it was poor judgment.Consider how problematic it ended up being for your boss to devote so much very personal time to you after you were hired. Think of how the other people in the office felt when the boss essentially courted your friendship for the first month; with long walks, lots of conversation and teaching you about the business. That amount of personal attention, while good-feeling to the new employee, nearly always has negative results. It looks inappropriate, it sets the new employee up for unrealistic expectations about the future, and it often causes animosity on the part of other employees. You can see all of those happening in this case. It’s possible to coach and encourage a new employee without making it so intense and focused that withdrawing the attention is a jolt.

2. The brings us to the next new employee, Mr. Jock. He is having what you had, only in his own way. His version of the closeness with the boss that you enjoyed involves sports talk and goofing around. Apparently the boss likes that too and he prefers that kind of relationship to the one he had with you for a short time. Mr. Jock offers him more of what he likes and how he sees himself interacting at work–tossing the football and having locker room level conversations. Good grief!I realize PR offices and other businesses of that nature often have very relaxed settings, but this seems to not be the type of environment you’re comfortable with, even apart from this situation.

3. You don’t mention how many other employees there are, but if there are any, it seems time to stop thinking about Mr. Jock and his behavior and just focus on your work and the business-like relationships you can have with others. Being withdrawn a bit isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this situation. Acting beat down, sulky or as though something is the matter isn’t a good thing though, so watch your demeanor.You imply that employees are expected to be close and you must have conversations and be friend-like with the coworker, but obviously he doesn’t see it that way. So, take a cue from that. Be courteous and civil when you have reasons to interact with him, but leave him alone unless you need to talk about work. If you need to ask about work; really need to; and he doesn’t respond, confront him about it, right then. “Josh, I asked you a question, why aren’t you answering me?” If that doesn’t get a positive reply take it to your boss and state the facts of what happened. Tell him what you needed to ask, why it was important, how you asked it and what result you got. You can also tell your boss that although the coworker is friendly when the boss is around, that’s not the case when he leaves. At some point you need to bring those concerns to your boss’s attention, if they are keeping you from being effective in your work. If they are just irritating, leave it alone and move on.

4. You mention how badly “Josh” talks about the boss in his absence. You can either call him on it or make it obvious by your silence or by leaving the room, that you don’t agree and don’t like him doing it. I prefer the more open and honest way of telling him you don’t like to hear him talk about the boss when the boss is so obviously trying to be friendly with everyone. I may not agree with the boss’s judgment in this case, but it’s very disloyal of Josh to bad-mouth him.These things tend to get back to bosses at some point (don’t you mention it though), so the coworker may not be there very long anyway!

5. You are also concerned about the level of work you’re doing. As tough as it is to think, maybe your boss isn’t confident about what you can do but wants to try to keep you busy in some way. Or, it could be that he wasn’t satisfied with work you’ve done so far and he doesn’t want to give you something more significant right now. Why don’t you ask him? You can ask without sounding like you’re complaining about your work so far. Try offering to do more:”Kevin, I’d love to get more involved in some projects like Josh and Lisa are involved with. Is there a chance I’ll be able to do more of those soon?” After he talks with you about it you can say, “I’m happy to do the work you need done, but I’ve been feeling lately like I’m just doing make-work. If there’s a problem with my other work, I’d rather know about it than wonder. Is it that you think I haven’t done very well so far?” Then just stop and let him either deny that or confirm it. You would word that in your own way, but at least you’d have it out in the open.

6. The final part of your question is essentially should you stay there or quit. Unless work is truly miserable to the point that you can’t function, or if you’re very, very poorly paid or can get a much better job right away, stay. This won’t be your last job in your career but it can be the foundation for success in other places. Wring from it what you can, in spite of the situation, and figure it is a training experience for you. Work there long enough to have it look OK on your resume, then leave with a good conscience and a nice reference letter.I often advise people to consider what they want their reference letter to say, since most potential employers can read between the lines on a bland letter compared to an effusive one. You want to be praised for being a hard worker, a solid member of the team, never late or absent unnecessarily, always well-groomed; and most importantly, that you contributed to the business. Even in less formal work settings, the bottom line is, “Did she help us get our work done?” Or, “Did she help us make more money?”Do your work with intention. Intentionally do your work in a way that is most likely to get you a great reference letter in a few months or a year or two or whenever. If you leave now you just have a history of being an OK person who did some work. Make it a point to find ways to build your knowledge and skills and gain a reputation for dependability while still being fun and participating appropriately in your office culture.Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.