What Can I Do If I Think I’m Being Blackballed By An Employer?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors: I believe I’ve been blackballed by an employer. It stems from taking a test that I had to pass and I didn’t pass it. (Test taking anxiety. ) They wouldn’t let me take it again. I applied for another job with a company that is under the same contract as the manager of the first company, and they said I was not eligible for hire. Is there any course of action I can take? Or just make sure I avoid this employer?

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What Can I Do About False Information in My Background Investigation Results?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about negative information
in a background database. 

Question: 
I was labeled a thief on a contributory database without any due process or them contacting my professional board. It is viewed by any company that subscribes to it. I’ve been turned down for 1200 jobs. What gives? I have three degrees!

Response:
I can imagine how terrible it would be to have incorrect information or skewed information, on such a database. Keep in mind that background investigation providers do not create the information, they combine reports from a variety of sources, put it together and present it to clients as an overview of history regarding the subject’s finances, criminal history and sometimes, their social website history. (Clients pay for the level of investigation they wish to have done.)

So, it is likely that other databases would have the same information. Often the failure with all such background companies is in delving further to find out if, for example, a charge was expunged after a sentence was served or if restitution was made and the case was then dismissed. However, nearly always the defense of background companies is that they only report what they have taken from official files, so the grievance should be aimed at those who maintain those files.

Some states have state statutes about how often reporting companies have to update their files, so if your situation is because of that, it may be they have violated a state law. But, you would need an attorney to best deal with that issue.

1. Consider going directly to the background company to dispute the information in your file. Check their website and find out what to do if you feel the information is in error. Most of them have an FAQ, with that as one of the frequently asked questions.

If you challenge the records, you will need to provide proof or statements that can be verified, to show the truth of the matter.

2. At the same time, you need to get your police records or other sources of information corrected. You may need to hire an attorney to help you with this or may be able to do it yourself, if you have good documentation to show why there is an error.

3. If you did, in fact, get charged with a crime, but it is not the crime being reported on the database, you will need to have an attorney assist with getting court records changed or police records changed, to reflect the correct charge.

4. If you get to an interview, perhaps you can be proactive and mention the situation and why it doesn’t apply to your suitability for employment. Some people incorporate positive references by current employers right into their resume letter or letter of interest. Nowadays, a lot of hiring is done online, so the personal communication is missing, but perhaps you will have a chance to talk to a real person about it.

5. If you have been doing a good job in your current work, perhaps your employer could link you with someone in the geographical area in which you are seeking employment.

Your case certainly does point out why it is crucial for reporting companies to maintain accurate records—and why prospective employees should keep track of their own criminal and financial records, before they need to have them reviewed. Most of us, including me, never think to check on ourselves or correct errors. Then, when we need to have a good looking file, it’s too late to stop the errors from going out. In your case, it seems it would be worth the money investment to have someone help you cleanse your record as much as possible.

I wish you the very best with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Rowe
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Seasonal With Possibly Full-Time

Asking the Workplace Doctors about speaking with coworkers about a full-time position:

Currently, I am working a seasonal position that may lead to a full-time position if the employer deems a worker to be a good fit. I have accepted this position because it provides a decent salary while I try to decide on a career that will work best for me in the future; a career that I will enjoy. Luckily, during the interview process, I was candid with the manager and he knows why I was interested in this seasonal job, but I’m not sure how to communicate this notion with my colleagues. This job doesn’t require a high level of education and some workers talk about these jobs very highly. A lot of the workers feel lucky to have this kind of job. So, I’m not sure how to best handle conversations or questions about my future with the company. Thanks!

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What Should I Do If I Have No Work To Do In My New Job?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to
handle a situation where there seems to be no work in a new job. 

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QUESTION:
I just started a new job 2 months ago, in the same field of work as I’ve done for 27 years. I couldn’t wait to work for this company, because it sounded like the perfect place to work: It’s a small company, seemed like a lot of nice people, I’d have more variety, I’d be creating the “standard” for new employees and moving up the company, as I was told, is common place.

This is also a start up company, I should mention.

Since I’ve been here, I have utilized my skills by building up their database, since they did not have any. I have also educated myself in their systems, as I was not familiar. It’s been 2 months, and I’ve done all the building of the database I could think of. I’ve also educated myself as much as I can. Big problem now is I have yet to work on a project, because they don’t have anything for now. I’ve been asking my boss and our sales guy, and they both agree the work will not be here until next year, 2019, and we may possibly get something this year, but it’s not guaranteed.

I’ve asked all sorts of people in the office if they have anything for me to do, and they always say they will try to find me something, but nothing ever comes up.

I sit in the very far back of the office and sometimes wonder if they forgot they hired me. I feel very isolated and ignored in this company. I do not know what to do, because I can imagine not having any work to do, and sitting back here all day at my desk with no interaction with others. I feel like I made a huge mistake coming to this company, but I can’t go back to prior employer. I would feel humiliated. Do you have any advice? I’m pretty desparate, lonesome and bored and am willing to try anything! Thanks in advance
Lonely and Bored

Response:
Dear Lonely and Bored,
1. It may reassure you somewhat to know that the situation you describe is sadly fairly common in start-up companies. They have funding to staff to the level they hope they will require and they need to use that funding upon start-up, not a year later. Sometimes the work doesn’t materialize as hoped and they end up down-sizing. Often the business grows and there is more work than the staff can handle. But, for the first couple of years, many employees are just biding their time.

It sounds as though you have attempted to use your time well and to benefit the company. I wonder if you let your manager know what you were doing and if your work was acknowledged. If key people aren’t aware of how you have attempted to bring value, it’s not too late to bring that up when you discuss your position, as suggested next.

2. You should talk to the person who hired you—your manager or supervisor. Be sure to emphasize that you want to continue to work there, but you feel frustrated over the lack of work—and especially the lack of interaction with anyone.

Also say that you would like to make sure you are doing the work they want you to do and that you are viewed as a good employee. If you haven’t shared the work you’ve done in your efforts to learn more about the company and to use your time well, do so.

Have a plan for how you think the problem could be alleviated. For example, maybe there is some specific project that will utilize your skills, even though it’s not what you will be doing down the line. Or, maybe there is some training, even self-training right at your desk, that would help you be prepared for work in the future. Maybe they would have ideas for what they would like you to learn to do, to enrich your job.

The fact that you are concerned enough to ask about it, may be enough to remind those above you that they need to find something for you to do while they’re waiting for work to come in. Or, you may be told of some issues that you were unaware of and that you can improve. For example, perhaps there is some skill area they thought you possessed and they intended you to be involved with that work while waiting, but they now realize you can’t do the work they had in mind.

I corrected a number of spelling errors in your letter to us. That might be because you use your phone to type and mistakes often go unnoticed in those cases. However, if you were on a computer and using spellcheck, you may make similar errors at work, which could be viewed negatively by management. If they know you are open to hearing about concerns, they may be more willing to talk to you about areas of improvement. I don’t expect that is the case, but it’s worth considering.

3. In many offices the nature of the work doesn’t require interactions with other employees. However, in those offices there are still interactions in the break room and over the copying machine, etc. People still talk to each other, even if their work is not connected. This situation is certainly one you should mention when you talk to your manager or supervisor about the status of your job and your future there.

One thing you want to avoid is taking on tasks that you will need to give up when you get your own work to do. It creates false expectations about your helpfulness and can make you end up being over-worked when your own work gets busier.

4. If you have 27 years of experience with your former company, perhaps you don’t have to decide between it and this one. There may be other companies that would be eager for someone with your experience. I think you should wait and give this one a chance. But, if things don’t work out, you may have more options than simply returning to the place where apparently you didn’t mind leaving.

2019 is not very far away, so perhaps you can give it another few months to see what happens with the work. If you are getting paid well enough to make the job worthwhile in that way and can tolerate it a bit longer, you may not only get more involved with work, but that involvement may make it more likely you will become more of an integral part of the office staff.

I wish I had a sure-fire solution for you. Even if I knew all of the circumstances I could only guess at what would make an improvement, because your situation involves so many issues. You know the details of your work, so I hope you can put your mind to looking at the elements involved and see if you can find any indicator of another problem—or a solution.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Rowe,
Ask the Workplace Doctors

FOLLOW-UP
Well, it’s been now 5 months I’ve been employed at this company, and have yet to work on any projects.
I was hired in February at this start-up. I have spent the first few months building their data base, learning their systems and some smaller “busy work” they could find me. I have also gotten to understand the office dynamics better.

Our only sales person quit and they are not planning on filling that position. This concerns me greatly because that position is needed for us to drum up business. After the sales person quit, the duties went to two other guys at the company, who are project managers.

Part of my job is to go to bid list websites and pass potential jobs onto these two guys for them to decide if we can do the job and to come up with a quote/proposal to this potential customer. One of these guys ignores these jobs I send him, and I feel like we are losing out with potential customers because of this. The other guy does great and tries to get these potential customers, but still hasn’t produced any work for the company.

This company also plans on acquiring another similar company so we can buy thier customer base, but I dont know when this will happen. It could be good news for me, meaning I would potentially be utilizing my skills and working on projects as I was hired to do. The possibility of acquiring another company does give me hope, but in the mean time, I am still so bored, feeling under utilized, lonesome and frustrated that I took a position at this company.

Because I have been feeling isolated, lonesome and bored at this company, I haven’t made or felt a good team connection with my coworkers. It’s a very small team of people, which I normally do great in, but I still feel left out with this group. I also think there’s an affair going on between the only other woman in the office (who is the office manager) and a project manager. I have been around them in meetings and on breaks and I feel really awkward with their flirting and all the attention he gives her.

So basically, it’s been 5 months at this place and I’m really feeling like this isn’t working out but I don’t know what to do. The jobs in my field are not that plentiful where I live, and I have a fear there will be something bad at another place. Please help.

RESPONSE: 

I can understand your frustration. Since your last message, there has apparently been no positive change in your work situation or your feelings about it. In your April message you said the person hiring you told you there might not be much work until 2019—which is still six months away. If these five months have been difficult, another six months will be even more challenging. However, in both messages you said the option of quitting your job is not one you think would be good for you at this time.

1.) For some consolation and perhaps some inspiration, do an Internet search of “Pros and cons of working for a start-up company.” You’ll see articles like, “Why it sucks to work for a start-up.” Or, “Start-ups offer great opportunities”. A start-up company, by definition is a company hoping to fill a perceived market need. The potential for success can be the same as the potential for failure and a start-up can have that title for years before they settle in and become an established company or fade away. Facebook is still considered a start-up by some economists!

You had worked for your former company for 27 years—a full career for most people. Even if you were with your former company at its start-up, you wouldn’t have felt the same way as you do now. Most likely it was established when you were hired. So, the dynamics of the work group would be much different.

You may also be older than some of the other employees and have far more skills in some areas and less in others, than they do. You say you feel isolated and disconnected, so apparently you are not a gregarious person who jumps into the middle of a group—or if you are, you haven’t done it there. Or, as in some workplaces, the others there may be mostly focused on their work or personal interests and are not social in their interactions.

You also say you’re not comfortable with the flirting and personal talk between the office manager and a project manager, so communications between them are probably more free and easy than that to which you’re accustomed. Above all, you have no control over whether there is work for you to do and right now there is very little of it. It’s no wonder you’re unhappy with the job!

It sounds to me as though whoever sold you on the idea that this job would be a good fit for you should be the lead salesperson for the company!

On the other than, they did tell you it might be 2019 before work started coming in. And, you have a regular task that is important for generating work for the company. Further, it appears no one is complaining that you’re not doing enough work. From what you say, almost no one is doing very much work! (Money has to be coming in from somewhere, which is a puzzle, if they aren’t generating a large amount of revenue on their own.) One thing is for sure: If the company doesn’t make a good profit, at some point they will no longer be a start-up, they’ll be a close-down..

So, if you don’t want to or can’t quit and the only way you will be happy is if there is a lot of work for you to do, you will probably have to wait a few more months and hope for the best—and decide then if you want to go or stay.

2.) If you think continuing to work there is the best of your current options, consider talking to the person who hired you and express your concerns about whether or not you are going to have the opportunity to provide the work you are skilled at doing and for which you were hired. If you use a concerned tone, surely whoever you are speaking with will be open to hearing that you want to work and help the company succeed. I suggested that in April and it’s still the right thing to do.

You want to be careful however, since you might convince that person that there really isn’t enough work to justify your job position. As I considered your message, I called two managers in two organizations. One is in a company that develops phone and computer network software and the other is in a business center development company. They weren’t very empathetic! They both essentially said the same thing. One expressed it this way:

“I hear that complaint about not having enough to do or not feeling useful, from a lot of new employees and I tell them they may not feel optimally useful for the first year or two, but I can’t stay busy helping them self-actualize in the business. When we have work for them to do, they’ll get it; if we don’t, they’re still getting paid and a good place to work. If they worked at a store that had no customers for long periods of time, I’d tell them to find something to do or learn to be patient, because I can’t create customers and I don’t need an employee reminding me every day that we don’t have them.”

I don’t think that attitude is very effective and certainly doesn’t reflect the best management style! However, he’s a very successful manager, from the viewpoint of generating money for the company and generally creating a good work environment. He’s just unconcerned about anyone’s feelings except his own!

So, if you talk  to your supervisor or manager, keep your focus on wanting to help the company succeed. You might want to also express your wish for a better relationship with the other employees. You might be given some advice about ways to help the situation. I think if you felt more like part of the office team you would feel much better about everything else—but you will probably have to make that happen.

3.) You say that one part of your job is to give the two sales people a list of bid requests. If that isn’t what you were specifically hired to do, perhaps there are also other tasks that you could expand into temporarily. Based on the bids being requested, is it possible you could make suggestions to the sales people about what the project could look like, if you were working on it? Could you assist the sales person who seems to be making an effort, but not being very effective.

4.) Having suggested those things to make staying there a good thing for you, in the meantime, I think you should actively look for other work and take the chance that another job will be better than this one. If the pay is comparable and commute time is acceptable and all of the other details work acceptably, you would at least be assured a fresh start.

I wish I could offer a guaranteed solution to your situation—or even some unique options that you may not have thought about. You do have relatively limited options—quit or stay. But within those are quite a few variables that can influence your decision. With your tenure in your field, you have undoubtedly solved many work problems before. So, stay confident that you can find a way through this one as well.

Best wishes to you with this. As always, if you wish to keep us informed, please do so. Your experiences can be very helpful to others!

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

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Delayed Reviews Make Me Anxious and Annoyed

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a second review being delayed and delayed:

Hello, I have been at my current job for a year and 4 months. I graduated college in May 2016 and this is my first “adult” job. We are a relatively new (3 years), very small private company and there are only 9 of us in the office. My co-workers and I report to our Director of Operations, and she reports to our COO. I love it here- my co-workers are amazing, my superiors are very relaxed, and the work environment is super casual. The only thing that bothers me is that my supervisor does not follow through on things that are said. read more

My Promotional Interview Was A Sham, Now What?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about what to do when it seems
the results of a promotional interview were determined ahead of time. 

Question:
I have been an employee for a local government organization for almost ten years now. A promotional opportunity opened up and everyone who has worked with me or is working with me told me that I am best qualified for this step up. I have a flawless work record, outstanding work performances, I have been at that location the longest, I get along great with everyone, etc….. So there is no reason why I shouldn’t be promoted.

So about 3 weeks prior to interviews, my boss made contact with me after work hours to tell me that I won’t be getting this promotion. I told him that I don’t understand how if I’m best qualified for it. He told me that I didn’t hear it from him and that was the end of conversation.

Interview came and I felt like I nailed every question. But I already knew what was going to happen based on the conversation before and who was on the interview panel. I didn’t want to believe it but it was all staged. Basically, there is a clique of friends who over the past 15 years have been helping each other out for these promotions. We have an HR manager and a compliance manager but they don’t have a clue as what is being pulled off behind their backs. I have sat on a few interview panels before and people interviewing for positions are on a 1-5 scale point system evaluated in 3 areas and the final decision is based on the average of these areas. You can fudge these numbers.

Sure enough, that one friend got the promotion over me. She is not qualified and has not even been there long enough to do the job as well as I could have. I’m in a tough place cause I feel like if I say something, then my job might be at risk. But it just doesn’t sit well with me. How should I handle this? I am working for a government agency who has pulled some crazy things before.

Answer: 

I can understand very well why you would feel disappointed, frustrated and angry over the situation you describe. Unfortunately, without naming your source in a complaint, you have no way to prove that the promotional interview was rigged—if, in fact it was. Even if you were to notify HR that your boss told you ahead of time that you would not be promoted, the interviewers could deny any collusion and point to things in the interview that led them to their ratings, and they may be telling the truth. This is why I don’t like to have in-house raters for promotion! Even if they try to be perfectly accurate and unbiased, there can be an appearance of wrong-doing.

However, it seems to me that your boss showed his own lack of judgment and ethics by contacting you in an almost clandestine way—after work hours—to tell you that no matter how well you did in your interview, you were not going to be promoted. If he didn’t have the courage or ability to do anything about it, he should have kept it to himself. Based on his lack of ethics about the matter, I would question any of the rest of his comments, even though it may seem he was proven correct.

For one thing, I don’t believe any of the interviewers would have told your boss that they intended to falsely rate the interviews or that their minds were already made up. No one would admit to that, with someone not involved in the unethical behavior. The only thing any of them may have done was to tell him they had concerns about you, so they doubted you would rate high enough to get promoted. Or, they may have said something very positive about the other candidate.

If that was the case, your boss could have at least told you about their concerns or what positive things they said about the other candidate. You could have at least made an effort to say something to overcome some of their concerns or reinforce more positive things.

If they didn’t say anything to him at all, his warning was based only on his own thoughts about the process—and maybe his own thoughts about your suitability or readiness for the promotion. Even when coworkers think someone is ready to be promoted, that doesn’t mean management levels view the candidate the same way. So, for all you know, your own boss may have had a few reservations and expressed them to interviewers, then came to you to appear to be your supporter. That may not be the case at all, but it may be.

As it is, you only are left with the belief that the interviewers were part of a clique of friends who deliberately rate a bit inaccurately here and there to skew promotions. The reality may be that they think they rated accurately or that the other candidate did a surprisingly excellent job. However, you will never know that and will always wonder, solely because your boss failed you and the company with his actions.

Since he is the one who started this unpleasantness in your mind, I think you should start with him to get some more information, if you haven’t done so already. You may want to be direct and ask him how he knew ahead of time what the results would be. You may find he was told nothing at all, he just speculated. I think he owes you an explanation of his prediction. You know your work culture best, so perhaps you cannot be very open or confrontational with him, but if you can talk to him openly at all, I think you should do so. Ask him for his help in overcoming this system next time. Ask him to give you additional opportunities to show how capable you are in areas related to supervision or management, so you can build your experiences even further. He may have access to the interview results and can give you insights about it.

The next thing you might do is go to HR or others in charge of the promotional interviews, to ask them if you can see any notes or at least the ratings you received, so you can tell in what rating areas you scored lower or higher. You mention that you have sat on similar interviews, so you know from experience that often there are very few significant differences between candidates, but a point here or there can change the average.

You won’t know what the other candidate scored, but it could be there was only a small margin of difference. Or, there could be a rating area in which you scored very low, which would be good to know. Sadly, you will never have confidence that the rating was accurate.

I think you should also ask HR to reaffirm for you, what exactly goes into the decision to promote. Is it only the interview or is it the interview plus your recent performance evaluations? Are current bosses asked for input about each candidate? Was someone from HR present during the interview, so there was an independent witness who could verify the differences between candidates? You can approach that as simply trying to find out more. It’s OK to say that you were surprised and disappointed because you truly think you were the best candidate for the position. Perhaps they will have some insights that would help you know if there was something other than the interview that led to the final decision.

In some companies it is acceptable to talk to the interviewers after the process and ask them for input to help you understand the decision and so you can prepare for future processes. You may not feel you can do that, but if you can, it would be interesting to hear what they say. In addition, if they are on interview panels in the future or talk with those who are, you can gain some insights and leave some positive impressions, based on talking with them and letting them see you in a different way than across an interview table.

The bottom line is that in-house interviews are often questioned as to fairness and accuracy. I think it is almost impossible to have them be completely unbiased, unless the interviewers have never worked with the candidates and do not know them personally—or if they haven’t contacted bosses and coworkers to get input ahead of time (which often happens). So, I can understand why you feel the process was a sham and someone else was promoted unfairly.

I wish I had some advice that could make the situation better, but probably nothing will help except a reversal of the decision and that is unlikely to happen. The best you can do at this point is to find out all you can about your results and accept that if you stay in that organization you will have to find ways to overcome the flaws in the promotional system. Not everyone who has been promoted has had inside help and at some point your knowledge, skills and abilities will be so strong they will be recognized and rewarded no matter who is on the interview board. You have to keep that faith and keep moving forward. It will help you feel better about your work and that positive attitude will inspire others who also feel you should have been promoted.

Best wishes to you with all of this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know if you find out more or gain additional insights.

Tina Rowe
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Unpromotable!

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a failure to get promoted:

Question:

I have worked at my current job for over 10 years. I am overqualified for the position but planned to find an internal position that met my skill level eventually. Many people came to this company as a result of losing employment during the “Great Recession” and had a similar plan. I’ve applied for 20+ internal positions with only one phone interview.

When I recently asked my HR representative to review my resume for any problems, she agreed and also tried to find out why I wasn’t interviewed for any positions, I was eventually told by her that I’m considered to be too ethical and managers felt threatened by my paralegal background.

I work in quality and we work on government contracts. My employer pushes ethical behavior but when it comes down to it, they don’t really mean it. You would think someone in the quality group who is considered very ethical would be a good thing. Now, I feel I’m considered unpromotable or even blackballed and as a result, have become disengaged at work. I’m an older worker and the jobs in this area are not friendly to anyone over 40.

Signed Unpromotable

Dear Unpromotable:
I don’t believe you are unpromotable and neither should you.

Yes, it would seem that your company would want an employee perceived as ethical. The situation you describe implies more than that each of your 20 applications for internal promotions has been rejected you because you are too committed to high ethical standards. You attribute this impression to your paralegal background being seen as a threat.

All this has you feeling disengaged and worried that since you are over 40 that there are not jobs elsewhere.

From a distance, of course, no one can provide relief for the distress you feel, but possibly, as an outsider, I can lend a perspective that will help do more than provide sympathy. Up front, you should know that you are fortunate not to be sending us a question about one of the many dismaying concerns that are sent our way. Scanning some of our thousands of Q&As will convince you of that.

1. Let’s start with a follow up. It is impossible to know if what HR has said is the determining reason you have not had even one live interview as a result of your 20 attempts. Did the HR rep disclose any details about how she gathered that impression, which and how many managers she spoke to and any specific incidents that caused them to rule you out as a threat because of your ethical values?

2. HR’s data gathered boiled down to that you are seen as “too ethical and managers felt threatened by my paralegal background.” This conclusion provokes the question of how might such an impression have been gained by all those managers to whom your applications were sent. How many managers said that and was that the only reason given? Did such an evaluation of you derive from your resume or from gossip about you as a threat? This is to say that your HR rep provided less than sufficient data. Have you followed up with this HR rep? Might you ask her what she advises? Should you minimize or delete from your application mention of your paralegal background? Or should you point it up as an asset to your company from questionable practices? Might meeting with her to learn if you applications were the cause of no response? Might it be good for you to put such a question in a note to this HR rep? Doing so quietly should provide tangible you evidence if what she told you.

3. Don’t allow yourself to be disengaged. In a follow up, might it be good to enlist this HR rep for advice about your career direction? Also is it not time that you to evaluate your 10 years in quality work? What projects have you been assigned? How do these demonstrate your capability? What do you like and dislike about your current position? Why do you want a promotion? You should have evidence in your superior’s evaluation of your good work. You should have developed coworkers who know of you as a team player. You should have engaged your boss in ways to make her/his job easier and more effective.

If you want to be promoted, apparently you see ways that might make your company more profitable—ways that cut waste, wasted time, wasted money, ways to get more government contracts and handle them without problems. Have they learned what you sees needs doing? In short, have you engaged your boss or bosses in your commitment to make your workplace a good, even a better place to work? Do they know you see your career as less than it might be? Have you enlisted their advice about the next steps in your career? The hard fact is that organization have employed above than below. Those above are not anxious about your promotion unless they see that as important to you or they don’t want to lose you. You haven’t been fired so they don’t want to get rid of you.

4. You say “My employer pushes ethical behavior but when it comes down to it, they don’t really mean it.” Such a statement implies you know of unethical practices. Are there specific instances of this that you have seen? If so, have you diplomatically raised them, gossiped about them, or challenged them? If not, have you bitten your tongue and felt guilty? If you are uneasy about sleazy or unethical practices, you are faced with how to prevent them or to vote with your feet.

After 10 years doing quality work, you should be acquainted with associations in your field. Do you belong to any of them? Have you joined ASQ – a Global Leader in Quality Improvement & Standards asq.org. ASQ have local groups and national conferences. They have certificates and black belt training. There are other quality association such as American Health Quality Association (AHQA) www.ahqa.org or perhaps you are concerned about safety or associations specific to your current employment. If not already, is it not time to become active in a network –a network that connects you with the best of its kind, with benchmark places to do on site visits, and to become acquainted with good, even great places in which to work?

Disengaging you can be directly or subtly caused by the day to day grind of assignments and complacency of your employment. But remember it is hard for a boss and/or coworkers to disengage an employee who is engaging. Your carefully composed question, suggests that you should be the kind of employee every employer is seeking. I doubt you are someone who is likely to have behaviors, emotional or physical, that make you unwanted. Have you consulted resources at your fingertips abound, such as The Good Company blog: http://www.apaexcellence.org/goodcompanyblog and the Greater Good Science Center greatergood@berkeley.edu?

Don’t think an age in the 40s is too old to be wanted. Seeing promotion or greener grass elsewhere is not necessarily the best solution to your distress. Rather this might be a time to find ways to make your current job more exciting. Or to see this as time for making connections beyond those you now have. Or it might be a time for finding ways outside of your workplace to enrich your own and/or other lives. Being engaged is activity we enjoy makes us more engaging.

You are young and have many years in which to enjoy life and also to help others to. I know these thoughts raise more questions than they answer. I hope what I’ve said might inspire or speak to your aspirations. If not, please see them as motivators to finding more creative answers to your question. I predict you will find answers to your disappointment about not being promoted. You are not the kind of person to allow this to sour you. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If you choose to update us on what happens, it will be good to hear from you again.
–William Gorden read more

Someone I Mentor Is Trying to Take Over My Work.

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors: How do I deal with someone I mentor
but who now seems to be taking over my position?
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Question:   
I worked with a person at another facility and thought she was intelligent and hardworking. As a result, when I was promoted to the Department Coordinator position I asked my manager to consider her for my old position. Ever since this person came to our department I have mentored her and spent considerable time training her. She now seems to think she can insert herself in my new position and interfere in my job responsibilities. Unfortunately our manager does not correct this behavior.

Even though my co-worker has enough of her own responsibilities, she tries to “be me”, often causing miscommunication. She does not tell me information I need to assist my managers. She takes it upon herself to do things I have already done. I have tried gentle reminders that we both have certain job functions, but the situation has not gotten better.

The previous Department Coordinator and I got along well and I did not step on her toes.  Now, after paying my dues for many years there are certain invitations and privileges that I have earned. Our manager wants the new person included in everything I do, business and socially, with our facility. When our manager finds out I am invited to a special outing she will call and ask that my co-worker be invited. I believe this is unfair even though I understand our manager is trying to make her feel welcome. This was not extended to me when I first started.

There are other events contributing to my frustration and it is affecting my morale. I do not know how to approach my manager without ruining my relationship with her and my co-worker. How should I handle this?

Response:
Hello and thank you for sharing your workplace concern with us.  If you like classic movies, watch “All About Eve” sometime and see if you notice some similarities to your situation!

Congratulations on being given the Coordinator title and role. As frustrated as you might feel, you have the title to prove you have gained increasing responsibility. However, as you are finding, Coordinator roles are challenging in many workplaces. The fact that you worked well with a Coordinator in the past is a credit to both of you—probably to you. In almost all workplaces, Coordinators retain many of their former duties, but are given additional duties such as scheduling, purchasing, liaison and communications. Unfortunately, if the former job (I’ll use the title, “Assistant” to match your Coordinator title) is filled, some of the work overlaps and there is a temptation for the Assistant to see herself or himself as a peer of the Coordinator, especially if they both report to the same manager. However, the Coordinator feels, justifiably, that the person who has their former role is a tad bit lower in the hierarchy.

Your situation is made even more frustrating by the fact that the new Department Assistant is someone you recommended and trained. Instead of feeling loyal and being a good colleague, it seems she is wanting to have the networking privileges that you only attained when you earned them with the new title and she is trying to show you up or at least make it seem that she needs to do your work, for some reason.

Her motive might be that she wants to show she could do your job if you are promoted or reassigned to something else in the company. Or, she may feel it isn’t fair for her to work hard but stay in the office, like Cinderella, while you get to interact with people from other departments or companies, in a more personal way. Or, she may want to be helpful and thinks showing initiative is a good thing, not realizing she doesn’t know enough to show initiative wisely.

In a similar situation of which I’m aware, a Unit Coordinator came back from a couple of days off to find the Unit Assistant had called the people in one of the Coordinator’s groups, to tell them some long-awaited items had arrived. She wasn’t trying to take away the Coordinator’s work, she just enjoyed chatting with people and it was fun to introduce herself and get to know them over the phone. The Assistant couldn’t figure out why the Coordinator was upset. The Coordinator was even more upset when people in her group told her how lucky she was to be working for the Department Assistant, because she was so nice! When she explained that she did NOT work for the Assistant, she felt that she sounded arrogant, so it was a bad situation all the way around.

The Coordinator came to realize she had to separate her ego from her work. She told the Assistant not to make those contacts again, but she was pleasant about it—and even joked with a select few about the implication that she was subordinate to the Assistant. That was ten years ago and so much has changed that she says the year she spent in the situation is a minor memory.

In another case, a Marketing Assistant took phone calls from people who were going to an event and gave implied approval for them to arrive and depart at various times. Those calls should have been referred to the Coordinator, because she knew the overall schedule and would have explained the requirements, before the participants solidified their plans. It was a big mess, all because the Assistant thought she was helping, but didn’t know enough about it to realize she wasn’t helping at all. She was embarrassed and seemed resentful at the time, but got over it and did a good job later.

Your manager could have reduced the problem in your workplace by clarifying duties to begin with and by being sensitive to the conflict that might arise from her own actions of essentially leveling the hierarchy. However, I think there are some things you can do to improve the situation. My suggestions may not fit your workplace and work culture exactly, but perhaps they can be adapted.

1.) If you still are in contact with the former Coordinator, she may have ideas for how she was able to help you stay positive and happy in your tasks while she took care of hers. Even though it sounds as though you simply were a good person for the role, perhaps she guided that at the beginning and you can learn from her experiences with you. She might also have some insights about your manager’s actions. You’ll want to avoid sounding like you’re gossiping or that you’re angry with the manager (you never know when something will get back), but you do have concerns and it’s appropriate to discuss those with someone who might be able to help. Keep the conversation upbeat and positive, assuming the best motivations from others, including the Manager and the Assistant.

2.) Get copies of your job descriptions and compare them, even if you have done so at some point in the past. What are the task differences between your title and the Assistant’s title? Doing that will give you something solid to discuss if the Assistant does something clearly outside her job description. However, it might be useful for you as well.

*Are there some jobs you did formerly that you should no longer be doing, even if you know them and can easily do them? Make sure you’re focused on your current job description not the former one, except for required tasks.

*Are there some tasks you can ask your manager to assign to the Assistant, to free you up for the larger work you’re doing as a Coordinator? Perhaps she needs a few more required tasks to keep her busy. She may think it’s a good thing to get additional responsibilities and it might help you in the long run.

3.) Keep your group of internal and external contacts active in a way that is genuine, not fake “networking.” An occasional phone call, email or text message to check on things is a way to show that you are their liaison with the Department, not anyone else.

4.) One other thing you could do is to talk more directly to those you interact with in your role, who are involved in something ongoing on upcoming. Let them know you and you alone are the person who can help them. Look for positive opportunities, being reasonable about how many times you contact people. For example:

“Kevin, I’m tracking progress on that conference you’re attending and I’ll have the materials to you the week prior. Do me a favor though and contact me about any questions you have. Jessica is in the office, but this isn’t her project and she won’t be able to help you, even though I’m sure she’ll try. Just call me or email me and I’ll get back to you right away.”

“OK Barbara, I’ll get going on those things and will call you back about them. If you have any further thoughts, email them to me. If you call and get Jessica, make sure you let her know you and I have already been working on this. Let her know you and I are talking about it,  so she won’t think she has to do something specific. It will save us all a lot of confusion if you contact me instead and I can get to work on it for you.”

“Jenna, thanks for the update on your trade show booth purchases. Jessica let me know that you had contacted her about it. (Conversation about it.) Do us a favor and use me as your liaison on those purchases, since I’m keeping the spreadsheet about it. That way you’ll always have it tracked correctly. Jessica is happy to help in an emergency and will let me know what you need, but I’m focused on your projects and she has others.”

You’d adjust those for what sounds right in your workplace and your role, but it will be helpful to make sure the problem isn’t caused by people contacting the Department Assistant instead of you, because they think it’s OK to do it—or even think it’s preferable to do it.

5.) In supervisory classes, I teach about Intervention related to employee problems and I say, “The earlier, the easier.” It’s easier to talk to an employee after the first time you see an error, than after they’ve done the same error a dozen times. It’s also easier to talk to a co-worker right away, when you sense a conflict. However, since I know we often delay, hoping things will get better, I also teach the concept: “Make the next time the first time.”

What I mean by that is, if something has gone on for a while, and you haven’t said anything definite about it, pretend the next time is the first time and correct the situation as if it’s new and you want to clear it up. That allows your tone to be friendly and breezy about it, no matter how frustrated you are. “Hey, Jessica, I see you sent the list out to everyone in my contact group. I want them to know I’m the one coordinating that program,  so do me a favor and let me handle all of the communications about that project, OK?” You can explain any problems that were created or you can simply leave it at that—it’s your job and you’ll do it.

By making the next time the first time, you can establish a start line for dealing with the situation, if you think it has become more than just an irritation. For example, you tell her in a pleasant way that her actions in doing such and such a thing created confusion, so don’t do that again. Instead let you do it because it’s your work. If she does it again, you can be more firm about it. “Jessica, this is like the thing last week I asked you not to do because it was my job. What’s going on, that this is happening again?” A co-worker can ask that just as well as a supervisor might, so you’re not overstepping your position, you’re trying to get the work of the department done, the right way.

Don’t say much more than that. Put the pressure on her to explain herself and for you to get a better idea of whether she is purposely trying to cause problems or is she is genuinely confused about work assignments.

If she does it again, you have something much more solid to take to your manager and it won’t sound as though you didn’t try to work it out. Write an email to your manager and give the three examples, factually. You can also mention previous situations to show it has been recurring.

Ask your manager for assistance in working through the situation. Put your focus on how it causes problems for your internal clients, delays work, creates errors or some other work related issue.  Don’t emphasize that it undermines your role or creates a morale problem for you. Managers usually care more about the effect on work than they do about the effect on feelings—that’s just a harsh reality.

Talking to your manager should be a last resort after you’ve tried everything else, because it sounds to me as though your manager might not agree with you and might feel you are being overly sensitive or not wanting to help your co-worker. It would be unfair for her to feel that way, after all you have done to help your co-worker, but that may be another reality! She may genuinely not see that it is an issue–and may think you are so much more advanced in your work skills that there isn’t comparison or competition.

6.) Use your job description to arrange your work area and clarify your title and roles. In a similar situation, an Assistant was given a Coordinator title and wanted to feel and show that she had transitioned from her former work, even though she was still doing many of the same tasks. She cleared her desk and made it look different. She created the space in a way that fit her new duties. She put holders on her cubicle walls, each labelled for various projects, people and groups. She used those for hard copies and print-outs of various things. Most things were on her computer, but she wanted a visual look that showed she had work she didn’t have before.

7.) I can also understand your frustration—and perhaps some hurt feelings—when your manager makes a point of telling you to include the Department Assistant in the activities and events you had to wait until you were the Coordinator to attend. Your manager may think it seems inequitable for the Assistant to stay behind while you attend functions the Assistant would enjoy. (It could even be the Assistant has talked to your manager about attending and hinted that she would like to go but doesn’t think you will ask her.)

You said you recommended the coworker for your former job because you were impressed with her work. Maybe your manager sees those same qualities in her and wants to help her get to know people, so she’ll have contacts down the line. A really nice thought would be if your manager thinks you might move up again one day and the Assistant can move to your role then—and maybe that IS part of your manager’s thought process.

Whatever the motivation, your manager has apparently decided you should include the Department Assistant in some events. I think you should just figure the situation has changed from when you were in the Assistant role and, for now at least, you and the Department Assistant will attend events together. One way to handle that is to look at your schedule and unless something is clearly not appropriate, invite the Assistant on your own rather than waiting to be directed. If it’s a group she hasn’t been to before, be the gracious person who introduces her around. Enjoy having a title and role that will allow you to invite someone to  meetings and events. You couldn’t have done that before you got your promotion, but now you can.

Others attending will either know the titles and roles or they won’t. If they do, they’ll know you are inviting someone lower than your level in the organization and think you were nice to do it. If they don’t know the titles and roles, let your demeanor give them an idea of who is the most mature and competent.

If there is some aspect to the meetings that makes it inappropriate for the Assistant to be there, let your manager know–but honestly, I don’t think you’ll find a reason your manager will agree with.

8.) You indicated there are other things going on that have lowered your morale and contributed to your feelings of frustration. Whatever those are, you can always feel confident that you are on the right track if you put your focus on fulfilling the goals of your manager and providing excellent service to your internal clients, in a way that complies with the directions and guidance of your manager. None of us work in isolation—we all have someone who is responsible for their own work and for ours. The more our work is trouble-free for our managers and executives, the more valuable we are to them. The more we want to do it our way, not their way, the less valuable we are.

Your manager is probably aware of some of your feelings and doesn’t want you to feel that way—or doesn’t see a reason for you to feel that way. He or she has concerns and pressures too and just wants things to go smoothly. The more you can let the current situation become a minor irritation instead of a major conflict, the more positive your manager will feel about you. As I mentioned in another section, if you feel you must talk to your manager emphasize the perspective of how the current situation hurts the department.

That may not be advice you need, because that might not have anything to do with your situation. However, I have noticed that a title increase or a promotion often is accompanied by some frustration and disappointment when the reality is different than anticipated. Further, it’s sad to have thought you’d have a warm relationship with the new Department Assistant, just as you and the last Coordinator had, only to find it hasn’t happened that way and there is tension and some resentment instead.

Putting your focus on helping your Department and your manager be successful will ultimately help you be more successful. Ironically, that is what will help the Assistant be successful too. Dr. Gorden refers to this concept as WEGO—working together to achieve workplace goals.

Things change and you will not always be in that Department or with that manager or coworker. Be the person who transcends everyone and everything by learning new skills, improving old skills and becoming more credible and valuable all the time.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know what develops.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

  read more

Told I “Wasn’t Working Out” In New Assignment At Work. Now What?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about going back to a former assignment
when a new one didn’t work out.

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Question:

I was a warehouse associate at a company for a year, then I was promoted to working in the field. After three weeks in the field I was told “it wasn’t working out”. What can I do now? I’m not sure why it wasn’t working out and no one really told me. My old job is still available, is it automatically mine to resume?

Answer:

Hello and thank you for sharing your workplace concern with us. The only way to find out whether or not you can go back to your old job is to immediately ask your supervisor, manager or Human Resources section. You were apparently doing well enough in it that you were promoted to something else, so they may be very happy to have you fill the position again so they don’t have to train someone else. I’m certainly hoping that is the case.

I assume you were only recently told that your new assignment wasn’t working out. If so, you obviously have to know where you are supposed to report for work next, or IF you are supposed to report for work. So, find out right away.

A statement about a job or assignment not working out often can be translated to say, “We thought you’d be OK in this new job, but we can see now that you’re not what we need,  because………” What follows that statement could be one of several things:

*Maybe you had trouble learning the procedures and methods in your new job. This could be because you weren’t taught them very well or it could be that the new procedures and methods are more complex than you’re accustomed to dealing with at work, so you had problems learning them.

*Maybe you and the people you worked with didn’t mesh very well because of different personalities or styles.

*Maybe there was something else, either personally or related to work, that your supervisor thought was a problem. He should have told you so you could correct it or explain your situation to him. However, few people like to have unpleasant conversations and your supervisor or manager avoided a long interview where you could talk about it, by only giving you a brief reason.

I have often said that work is like a romantic relationship in that it usually starts with great expectations and often ends either angrily or very unhappily or by saying, “He was a nice guy, it just didn’t work out.” That probably is what happened here.  None of this may be anything that is a fault of yours or a failure of yours. The job and you just weren’t a good fit right now. Maybe one day it will be and you will have another chance at it. At least now you have had an introduction to what it involves and can build on that.

Put your focus on ensuring you can go back to the work you were doing in the warehouse. At the same time, show you are a strong and confident person by being positive overall, in spite of what I know is a big disappointment. On the other hand, if you were doing well in the warehouse and not as well in the field, it might also take a lot of pressure off, which would be a good thing.

I think it would be tremendously impressive of you, if you would write a note to your supervisor or manager and thank them for the experiences you had in the new position. You could say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to continue in the assignment, but I appreciate the chance to learn more about the company. I hope one of these days to have another opportunity to work in the field.”

Best wishes to you in this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors read more