Getting Bad Reputation For Complaining About Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about:

I have worked with the same supervisor for 20 years at a state agency.There are long periods where we have gotten along and worked well together. However, my supervisor goes through periods of being very mean to me, or sometimes other employees. It has nothing to do with my work and I have had excellent performance appraisals. Three years ago I consulted with a counselor at the Employee Assistance Program. I was given information on the workplace bully. There is never an apology at the rough times, but I will sometimes hear an excuse like “I was having a difficult day.”

Recently the meaness lasted for a 5 to 6 week period. When things started to get worse a few weeks ago, I found myself unable to sleep or think about anything else. Again I consulted with EAP and was told I am working with a person who is verbally abusive and that I should report her to the state office, which I did. Other employees have made reports in the past. Now that my supervisor has been told about the situation and my name was used, it has become very difficult to be at work. I feel as though it was an injustice to me to use my name. Many of my statements have been taken out of context. I am aware of incoming phone calls from her peers all over the state. They have never seen this behavior in her and certainly would never believe she is capable of such behavior. I feel as though my reputation has been tarnished throughout the state. I am considering leaving my position, but hate the thought of having my reputation look like a troublemaker, which I am not and never have been.

Signed, Tarnished Reputation

Dear Tarnished Reputation:

I can imagine your anxiety and frustration. Let me share some thoughts and see if they can help you develop a plan for dealing with this situation.

1. It wouldn’t have been possible to investigate your complaint without using your name. However, I wonder what type of investigation is being conducted. I assume you wanted a complete investigation, and for your boss to be told to change her behavior, if the investigation showed your complaint to be valid. If an investigation wasn’t done, you may need to emphatically ask for one.I wonder if you have approached this by talking to your boss’s boss first. That is the person who should be handling this. And everyone has a boss, even at high levels. That person is also the one to whom you should express your concerns now.Consider asking for an interview with the higher manager and saying what has occurred that makes you think you are getting a bad reputation, and ask for help in maintaining your reputation as a good employee. Show your performance evaluations and explain again why you felt it necessary to stop the behavior of your boss. Perhaps that would provide you not only with support, but with a layer of protection as well.

2. You do not say the result of the investigation about your boss, if that has been completed. Hopefully you provided specific dates and behaviors and the names of witnessess or those who could verify some of the accusations. If not, and if the investigation is still being conducted, provide that information. Often those who complain only vent without providing clear details. Ensure that your complete story is heard. Contact those who can verify it and ask for their assistance, if that would help.

3. It is natural that others might contact your boss to hear the story. A complaint about a boss is big news and most are just curious. But, you’re probably correct that your boss will explain it from a viewpoint that makes you look to be the problem, not her. You likely can’t stop that. All you can do is hope that your prior and continuing good performance will help you through it. But, having a circle of support might be helpful. This is certainly the time to be the best possible employee in the ways over which you have control. It is also the time to seek the friendship and support of co-workers who know the situation.

However, is it possible to also use this as a time to make things better with your boss? That will be my third and major suggestion. 3. It seems this situation went on for too long anyway. I don’t know your definition of verbally abusive, but if your boss yelled at you, used mean names or insulted you purposely and repeatedly, it appears she should have been confronted many months or years ago. Even if that wasn’t successful, it is still not to late to save the working relationship. It will be difficult, but may be worth you efforts. Consider asking to talk to her about this matter. Explain why you felt you had to complain to someone other than her. Cite the times you told her you were hurt or offended, or the times she should have realized it, and say that you felt you had no choice but to go higher, since she didn’t respond to you then. But, say that you want to have a good working situation and hope that can still be achieved. You might make a list of the type of behaviors that have been most hurtful to you and ask to talk about those. Don’t back down about them, and insist that you can’t work at the highest level in a situation like that. But, at least you will be talking directly.Point out your value to the office and say that you don’t want to leave, you only want work to be better and more respectful of everyone. As hard as it is to believe it sometimes, most bosses realize who their top employees are, and want to keep them, even after a situation like this.You know your situation best and may know you will have to do something different than that suggestion.

But the bottom line is that I think it would be worthwhile to try to find a way to work better with your boss, without relying on an outside influence to force her to do it.

If you have worked effectively together in the past, point out those times. Let her see that there is still a possibility of a positive future for the two of you to work together.If an investigation is going on right now, you might be limited in what you can talk about. But consider that open communication as one way to make things better and to allow you to stay. 4. If you decide you simply must move on, be prepared with copies of your evaluations and maybe even letters of recommendation from those within the state who have had good interactions with you. Ask your boss’s boss to help you find a place where you can work without the negative factors that are now happening. Maybe HR can help you, since they contributed to this situation too.I’m sorry all of this came about when you were trying to find some relief from an unpleasant work situation.

Keep in mind that you are probably only one of many in the state system who has something similar going on. This will fade away over time and will have little impact on your reputation if you continue to do good work.The reputation of a twenty year employee with a good work history is not easily tarnished. That is especially true when others have complained about the same thing you did. Continue to be a positive influence at work, and you may find the curiosity about the situation will go away soon. Best wishes as you deal with this. Use your inner strength to help you stand tall. Your were right to try to find a solution to a problem. Now, continue to move forward in your work. Behave in such a way that whatever others may hear, they will know that you are valuable and worthy of a positive reputation.

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.