Boss Seeks Personal Info

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about unsupportive boss:

I am a 10 year employee of a Healthcare company and a staff nurse with a good record of performance. In my 25 years of nursing I have never encountered a supervisor who displays a lack of clear boundaries in her verbal communications…this had very negative consequences for me in terms of my job stress/ job security and I am not sure how I should best proceed. Here is the readers digest version.

On of my first encounters with her was a conversation about stray cats in her yard (at the time I was doing cat rescue work), which she was trying to find homes for….using her position of authority, I was manipulated into helping her capture the mother and 2 kittens, which I consequently took into my home and fostered until they were adopted. This was quite stress provoking to me and she never thanked me, not did she acknowledge my efforts in any way…her attitude seemed to me it was my job to do so.Several months later, I had to go on medical disability for a herniated disc in my neck; I was out of work for 5 months during which I had surgery to repair it.

I have been back to work now for 9 months, despite her attempts to block my return to work and to cause me to be terminated from the company. Here is what happened. A. One week into my medical disability, she called me on the phone and said “Well, what are you going to do for a job now…we are not getting any younger, you know.” B. At my next office appointment with my surgeon, she was present in the office and overheard much of my communication with my surgeon, regarding my medical condition. It was at this point that I involved my Union Rep to preserve my job stability and to preserve my right to patient/doctor confidentiality. C. Upon returning to my job after surgery, she blocked me at the doorway and stated that I would need special clearance. Subsequently involving both managers above her who were told by my Surgeon’s nurse that I was trying to manipulate inappropriate clearance back to work (which was untrue and would have amounted to fraud If I had done so). D. Having been back on the job for nine months with no sick days and an having met all the job requirements as before, she and I were working together one day recently; she asked me about aspects of my surgery, then told me about her friend, a fireman, who injured his neck and is now “on some desk job” She then started talking about physical wear and tear caused by a job; when I confronted her about her comments the next day (which I interpreted to have clear reference to her opinions about my condition), she denied knowing what I was talking about and then stated that she was talking about her friend, not about me.Bottom line, how do I protect myself from a Boss who keeps trying to get personal information from me and who has shown through her actions that she will use that information against me with regards to my job security???

Signed, Against Me

DearĀ Against Me:

We are happy to help in any way we can. It sounds as though you are a long-time professional person with a history of good work. Sometimes it’s hard to apply the knowledge and skills you have used successfully in the past to deal with an emotional matter right now; but that will help you develop a plan. Let me share some thoughts and perhaps you can use them to assist you in your own thinking about this problem. I always think it is a good idea to analyze a problem first, to get a good picture of what has happened, what is happening and what one wants to have happen in the future. The first thing to consider is your history with your supervisor. Apparently you have not been supervised by her your entire time there, so you might want to consider how your relationship with her is the same or different than with former supervisors. If you have had positive evaluations and good working relationships in the past, you will be in a much better position to deal with the current situation than if you have often had conflicts. In addition, if your evaluations and daily activities reflect that you are a valued member of the team, no one will want you to lose you because of the conflict. Former supervisors also make good resources for getting advice about situations. You might want to consider asking one of them about this matter.You might also want to consider your supervisor’s relationships with other employees. Is she generally well thought of and only you and a few others have issues, or is she considered a problem by most people? Have others filed grievances about her or complained about her? Answer those questions for yourself and you will have a better idea of how much support you might receive if you decide to take strong action now.If you have close friends there who will be honest with you, ask them for their opinions about the relationship between you and your supervisor. Rather than asking them to take sides, ask, “If you were asked to look at this completely objectively and comment on what you see going on between the two of us, what would you say is her perspective, my perspective and a middle ground if you think there is one?”

You still won’t get the exact truth, because all such discussions have some friendship-protecting going on, but at least you might hear one or more opinions that will help you see how this is viewed by others. That might reinforce your thoughts or it might encourage you to rethink them. Another thing to consider is, if you have expressed concerns in the past, what actions were taken? You say you filed a union grievance. Those are nearly always investigated and result in a decision of one kind or another. If you felt the union did not agree with you and an investigation was not ruled in your favor, you may have an idea of how your complaints might be viewed now. If the union staff agreed and pushed for an investigation–and there was a finding that your supervisor did wrong; that would give you support for action now.

You don’t say how your supervisor could have overheard a conversation with your surgeon, in his office. But if that is the case, I would think a complaint to the doctor would have also been appropriate. However, you mention problems with his nurse and that might add to the issue.So now you are in a situation where you apparently feel things cannot continue as they are; and it does seem this situation will not get better! But before you think about what to do, consider that your supervisor is probably not going to be fired, whatever action you take. That reality may make a big difference in your actions! There are several potential paths for you: 1. You can file a formal complaint with HR, alleging unfair treatment and harassment based on your injuries. If you were to do that, you would want to list all the things you mentioned to us, with any witnesses who can show you have not been treated as others with injuries have been treated. Or, that your work has been harmed or your job threatened, because of your treatment. I don’t think this is the best approach because you would likely not have enough evidence to prove it and you would be placed in a very awkward position if nothing came of it. However, it is one option.You could even consult a labor attorney to see if there are legal or civil issues that action could be taken about. Again, you would still be working with her if things didn’t go well.

2. You can make others aware of your concerns and in the process bring to light your complaints about your supervisor, but in a less obvious way. You could write to the person above your supervisor or to HR, and start with last week’s conversation. Say you have concerns about your work status and want to ask if there are issues you need to know about that could jeopardize your employment. Mention that your supervisor talked at length to you about work injuries and you are concerned there are questions about your ability to work. Say that you do not want to discuss your injuries, except as part of a formal process, and you will tell your supervisor and co-workers that in the future. Close by asking HR, or whomever you are writing to, to keep you informed about any questions or concerns related to your injuries or your work. That letter will let them know that you will not answer questions at random and that you are willing to talk to them if there is a problem you don’t know about. It will probably also result in your supervisor having to respond to her manager about what is going on. It will probably make your supervisor angry, but not as much as if the complaint was directed toward her specifically.

3. Or, you could wait until the matter becomes an issue again and tell your supervisor you do not want to talk about your personal situations or the subject of injuries, except as part of a formal process. If she objects to your request, send a letter then. If she mentions something about your injuries, just say, “Unless we’re having a formal interview about my injuries, I don’t want to talk about it. Thanks for your concern though.” That at least doesn’t sound too abrupt. And, the argument could certainly be made that a supervisor has the right to talk to you about your injuries. By approaching it moderately, you could cut off the conversation without sounding hostile. 4. You may want to see if you can build a better working relationship with your supervisor. That may not be possible and you may end up only coexisting, but it may be worth a try. At least you would be seen by others as someone who wants to work effectively and not have conflicts. That would tend to lessen the ability of your supervisor to create issues. And, if your supervisor would also prefer to not have conflicts, she may be hoping you and she can come to a better situation. It may not seem to you that she has that goal. Often we do not see how someone we dislike could have positive motivations for some of the things they do; but they very often do.It is obvious that the two of you do not communicate in the same way. It seems that she is more flamboyant in her remarks than you are. She may sometimes speak without thinking it through, or say something, then regret it later. She may simply talk more than you and ends up stepping in her words for one reason or another. Or, she may think through things and purposely try to make problems. You don’t know for sure and never will. However, you will likely need to be the one to make communications more effective if her style is not like yours. She probably feels now that she has to watch what she says to you and things may be awkward. Or, she may resent having to watch what she says to you and she may be less pleasant than before. You can help by being courteous and civil and keeping conversation focused on how to best do your work. You have patients or clients I presume; they deserve everyone’s undivided attention. Think about them and get the focus of others on them as well. Make work a priority in your actions and your conversations. That not only will prevent more personal talk, but will also be an example of what your profession stands for.I often feel sorry for patients who visit a doctor’s office, medical clinic or hospital, or rely on the staff in those places to take care of records and tests, not realizing the misery, unpleasantness and sometimes hatred, that is flaring behind the scenes! Medical environments seem to foster unhappy working relationships. And all of that is from people who have degrees, professional jobs and who are supposed to be in a helping profession! You can be the exception to that by putting the needs of others before the frustrations you feel and by helping others do the same thing.Is there a process or task that needs a champion; someone who will volunteer to head it up, support it or work on it with others? That might be a good thing for you to do. Are there opportunities for positive communications about co-workers? Send an email thanking someone for helping you or recognize good work in some other way. Do your part to make your workplace more than a battleground.While you are working positively, simply refuse to talk about your injuries unless it is necessary for some reason. Your injuries are presumably a thing of the past. Do the therapy you need to stay healthy, and look out so you don’t reinjure yourself.

Plan for the future, both at work and at home. You are only at work eight to ten hours a day, so find things that bring you pleasure at home and allow you to completely relax there. That will help you keep a clearer perspective when things happen at work.If you have time, write out a list of how you want to be seen by others. Then, work to be that person all the time, every day. Be so effective that your supervisor would never be supported if she tried to create problems for you and your job. Be so effective that maybe your supervisor would see you in a different way and things will go better. But especially be so effective that you see yourself as moving beyond this conflict and enjoying work until you retire or move to some other job.You know the situation best and will have to be the one to make the final decision about what you want to do next and after that, but I hope these thoughts will help you with your planning. Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

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.